If growing up in the 1980s taught me anything, it’s that right now we should be either be living in a post-apocalyptic hellscape or a wondrous time with flying cars. While we seem to be on track for the latter, what few predicted, outside of George Orwell, was that thanks to technology we’d be the most data-mined and tracked species since the dawn of time.
At the moment, we stand at a crossroads. Do we, as a planet, continue to enjoy the relative freedom we have online, which includes the ability to express ourselves freely, even if it’s in opposition to our leadership, or will we once again succumb to censorship and authoritarianism, which has caused such strife in various parts of the world in the past? A decade from now, the world will be a much different place thanks to the continued growth of the internet, which inevitably brings commerce and collaboration. However, what the internet looks like in 10 years is open to debate, and some of the biggest names are hedging their bets against a united planet.
To grasp the future, a basic understanding of what the economy looks like in the coming years is required. China is rising. The country’s GDP could overtake the United States by 2030 and will continue to skyrocket if current predictive trends continue. Simply put, China is a global superpower and here to stay. This means that, like the United States, it gets to set policy and dictate the direction of smaller economic allied nations. Currently, China is making inroads into multiple countries due to its Belt and Road Initiative. With the participation of 76 countries, China is beginning to emerge as a new dependency for those countries that once looked to the United States for this level of leadership and economic help.
But here’s the real game-changer: The Chinese government is authoritarian in nature. The general Chinese population is heavily censored and tracked by their government. This government has been developing new technologies for surveillance such as a facial recognition system that can identify a single person in a large and moving crowd, spy drones that look and act like flying birds to fool the public and beyond. It also data-mines Chinese social media sites aggressively to create a social credit system that ranks users based on their publicly stated love for their government, among other factors as well. The government has also been accused of a massive amount of intellectual property theft from U.S.-based corporations.
Logically, when analyzing the actions of China both internally and externally, a picture starts to form in terms of how it is pushing into other countries. Part of the infrastructure that China brings to those allies as part of the Belt and Road Initiative is technical infrastructure in the form of internet access. China is becoming a major internet service provider, and that is at the heart of where the internet is going in the next 10 years.
Enter Google — the world’s largest search provider and one of the largest data-mining corporations in history. Google, and other tech corporations like Apple, have a long history of compromising their “American” positions on privacy and surveillance as they try to become dominant forces in the Chinese market with their technologies. Google and others are seeing which way the economic winds are blowing and appear to be willing to compromise what many believed were their core values for the chance to be China’s next big tech provider.
Rather than oppose Chinese plans for a continually strengthening surveillance machine that monitors the internet for China and the infrastructure it supplies to other countries, Google has decided to help and support this major push. Recently, Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt, spoke at an event for Village Global VC where he laid out his and Google’s vision for the future of the internet mentioned above:
“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.
If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal. Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the U.S., which is also a big number.
If you think of China like “Oh yeah, they’re good with the internet,” you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from the government, with censorship, controls, etc.
Look at the way BRI works — their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries — it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.”
Google is currently putting its money where Schmidt’s mouth is. It was revealed in the last few months that Google had secretly been developing a search engine for China that can only be described as an authoritarian’s dream search tool. Codenamed Dragonfly, this search engine will not only record and track what the user is looking for but also link all results to the government tagged to the user via a cell phone number and more. It was only known to a handful of Google employees, but when it was discovered by the company’s general workforce, it created a serious internal rift within the company that required Google to crack down on its employees.
With China’s rising global power base and Google’s willingness to lend its vast capabilities and expertise to China’s vision of the internet in 2028, the internet is looking less like a free and open collaborative system and more like a tool for maintaining power at the expense of everything else. Tim Berners-Lee, help us all.
Site Search 360 Custom Site Search