Russia’s Isolation From the Internet Could Threaten Global Access

What happens when nations create their own internet alternatives?

Russia's handling of the internet could have an international impact.
Philipp Katzenberger/Unsplash

Netflix going dark in Russia was just the tip of the iceberg. As James Ball writes in MIT Technology Review, numerous online services and social networks have both gone offline in Russia and deplatformed Russian state media outlets in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The reasons for this are understandable and numerous, from wanting to minimize misinformation to attempting to accelerate opposition to the Putin government’s policies.

Could that end up having unforeseen consequences? That’s at the heart of Ball’s article, that raises concerns about what happens when a massive nation ends up with what’s been dubbed a “splinternet.”

This isn’t a term unique to Russia circa now, either; as of last year, the Chinese government was also working on its own version of the internet. The primary issue, Ball writes, is the potential of two rivals systems that are fundamentally incompatible. This includes a scenario in which “Russia, China, or some other countries formed rivals to the bodies that manage IP addresses and DNS and got them established” — something that could be difficult to make work with the current version of the internet.

Another issue that Ball points to are commonly-used services like Github and Amazon Web Services, which have a way of tying disparate parts of the internet together. Much of what gives the internet its appeal and its utility is the fact that it’s truly global. Should that become locked-down in some fundamental way, it would represent an existential threat to the internet so far.

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