The internet was once thought of being the global repository for all information. However, some governments quickly realized that having unlimited access to every kind of information might not bode well with their communist agenda. China is one such country that has led the charge in regulating the internet for its citizens – surreptitiously controlling and monitoring all aspects of it. It has implemented ruthless web laws that have undermined western websites and their e-commerce applications, setting the stage up for its Chinese equivalents to succeed. Such measures have prompted ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt to predict that the internet, rather than undergoing mass fragmentation worldwide, will have two clear and separate voices by the end of 2028.
The 63-year-old multi-billionaire made the comments while speaking at a private technology conference in San Francisco hosted by Village Global VC. “I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America,” Schmidt said. While the Chinese-led internet will be based on government censorship that wields control over its citizens’ online access, the rest of the world will have access to the more democratic version of the web primarily run by the United States.
The Chinese internet is already strictly monitored by its government, giving rise to the term – “The Great Firewall of China”. The firewall has blocked Chinese citizens from accessing the internet’s most popular websites, including Facebook, Google, and YouTube. While a few tech-savvy Chinese citizens can still access the blocked websites using proxies, China has instead promoted their own equivalent websites. Baidu, the Chinese search engine, is Google’s alternative that provides results across the censored Chinese internet. Owing to the number of people using it, Baidu is the world’s eighth-largest internet company by revenue.
The famous video-sharing western website YouTube is also banned in the country – resulting in many Chinese corporations to launch their own video-sharing site. Tencent, a Chinese social media and video games giant, has launched its own social network, WeChat, as an alternative to Facebook. With almost one billion users in China, WeChat has a commanding position in the world’s most populous country and has propelled Tencent’s market value to around $520 billion. The Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba, has grown into one of the largest companies in the world – with its net revenue surpassing that of its western counterpart Amazon’s revenue in the United States.
Earlier in January 2017, Schmidt expressed concern regarding Russia and China’s lead in the race on artificial intelligence. He said, “I think that both the Russian and the Chinese leaders have recognized the value of this, not just for their commercial aspirations, but also their military aspirations.” In fact, since 2012, the U.S. government and government contractors have banned Chinese technology giants ZTE and Huawei from selling their products in the United States over security concerns.
In the Village Global VC technology conference, Schmidt also commented on the massive scale of such Chinese companies and services that ultimately garners phenomenal wealth. He said, “Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the US, which is also a big number.” While the Internet is set to be bifurcated, one may wonder if a large number of countries adopt the Chinese-led internet owing to its censorship laws and more revenues.