The concepts of universal access and openness that underlined the Internet creation three decades ago are under greater threat than ever before.
There are very powerful forces that have lined up against openness of internet on all sides around the world. The threat to the freedom of internet comes from governments that are working overtime to control access and communication made by their citizens. The entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the increase of “restrictive” walled gardens like Facebook and Apple, which pretty much control what software can be released on their platforms.
There are rising concerns from countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and even Britain to monitor, censor and restrict the use of the internet. Creation of Google would have been difficult if Facebook dominated the Internet. Fact of the matter is that you have to play by their guidelines, which are really restrictive. Because of web being so open, Google managed to develop a search engine. Once there are too many guidelines to follow, innovation is going to suffer.
Facebook is not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. For example, Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for lots of years. From the efforts made by Hollywood to push through legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s strategy to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the bigwigs of Internet is facing tremendous challenge.
In China, which now has more Internet users in comparison to any other country, the government has come up with new “real identity” rules in an effort to tame the boisterous microblogging scene. In Russia, there are strong calls to rein in a blogosphere that is giving rise to anti-Vladimir Putin protests. Signs are that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed “national internet” from this summer.
Simply put, we’ve seen a huge attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realizing the power of this medium to organize people and they are making every effort to clamp down across the world, not just in places such as China and North Korea but also in US and Italy.
The Chinese government’s attempts to control the Internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. They must understand it’s really tough for them to control the Internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.