Here Comes The Splinternet: How The EU Is Helping Break Apart The Internet

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In the wake of last week’s unfortunate decision by the EU Parliament to vote for the terrible EU Copyright Directive, Casey Newton over at the Verge has a thoughtful piece about how this could lead to the internet splitting into three.

…this latest effort is hamfisted in the extreme, and may have the effect of splintering the internet beyond what seemed possible even a few years ago. In the wake of GDPR’s passage, Europeans couldn’t visit the websites of some US publishers for months as new privacy frameworks were put into place. That sort of thing may be about to become a lot more common. The time has now come to speak of the internets, plural. And to get around, you might just need a passport.

Basically, as Newton notes, it just might not be worth it for many sites to serve EU visitors:

Perhaps the big platforms will feel so motivated to preserve their European user bases that they will indeed negotiate the deals necessary to keep their existing services operating basically as is. But it’s just as easy to imagine them scaling back their services, as Google has already done, and further divide the internet into zones. If it goes far enough, the entire internet may begin to feel like Netflix, whose library of content varies dramatically depending on which country you log on from.

But that’s just the big platforms. Smaller platforms aren’t even going to be in a position or have the resources to negotiate those deals.

And, this is just one symptom of a broader trend. China practically has its own internet already. The EU’s efforts here may create an EU-focused silo as well. India has been making noises about following China’s lead, perhaps cleaving off its own internet in addition. And, of course, there’s always Russia with its plan to unplug itself from the internet.

Perhaps this kind of splintering of the global internet was inevitable. Perhaps we, as a society, simply can’t handle a global network for everyone. But, from my perspective, this is still incredibly disappointing. The grand experiment of a global open internet is on its way out. And it’s especially depressing that the EU is the one who decided to lead the way on this.

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