This week, news spread of Russia’s progress to create a domestic internet. Like other countries, notably China and Iran, the Russian government wants to contain and control the content that its citizens see on the internet. As a result, the ubiquitous, open, free internet is becoming a form of “Walled Garden” model.
As more and more governments look to control content, the internet as we all know it is now is dead. The trust and credibility for these curated versions that spoon feed propaganda to the direct benefit of the political parties is a travesty and a loss of freedom and free thought. How can we have critical thinking if we cannot access a diversity of thoughts to expand upon? Innovation also dies when information is constrained and controlled. A new form of varying restrictiveness of internet is now evolving. Will it be better? Unlikely.
The term walled garden is derived from the famous shared gardens and parks built in the UK for the exclusive use of specific citizens, such as those that live within a specific footprint in the community, or are a part of a cooperative that owns and maintains the garden. So, it is exclusive and keeps outsiders beyond its walls.
The metaphor is a fitting one since what Russia is trying to do and what China and Iran have already done is to control the media and curate the content that citizen’s see. As well, they often try to replicate a propaganda based and controlled version of popular website like Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, and Amazon and replace these open sites with closed sites that they manage. Anyone who has ever been to mainland China knows that you cannot login to many sites that we take for granted here in the Americas.
China blocks thousands of websites (more than 8,000 websites to date) using its notorious filtering system, “The Great Firewall”. The reason for China’s aggressive take on the Internet is to allegedly protect its citizens from outside influence and “harmful information”.
For this reason, netizens from other parts of the world who travel to China for business, leisure, or living there usually have problems keeping track of the blocked websites in the country.
Social Websites and Apps that are blocked in China include these examples:
Many other sites are block too. These include search engines like Google, blogging sites like this one, WordPress, email such as gmail.com, messaging apps like Messenger, Slack, and WhatsApp, and streaming content sites, for example, YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, and more. Of course, most foreign news sites are blocked too, so no BBC, New York Time, Wall Street Journal, or Bloomberg.
You can still access blocked websites in China if you are smart and have access to the right tools and connections. Your favorite sites might be blocked, but there is still a way to access them in China. All you have to do is use a dependable VPN (Virtual Private Network).
VPNs can route your internet traffic through a secure tunnel and penetrate China’s filtering systems, so you can access your favorite web content in China without fear. However, due to China’s recent crackdowns on VPNs, not all of them work well.
As countries separate away from the open internet and close of territories and regions to control, manipulate, and curate the content that their citizens see, hear, and read, they can control the public opinion and shape the popular point of view to their whims.
Increasingly, authoritarian countries which want to control what citizens see are looking at what Iran and China have already done.
It means people will not have access to dialogue about what is going on in their own country, they will be kept within their own bubble.
The initiative involves restricting the points at which Russia’s version of the net connects to its global counterpart, giving the government more control over what its citizens can access.
That would effectively get ISPs [internet service providers] and telecoms to configure the internet within their borders as a gigantic intranet, just like a large corporation do today.
One expert warned that the policy could help the state repress free speech, but added that it was not a foregone conclusion that it would succeed.
“The Russian government has run into technical challenges in the past when trying to increase online control, such as its largely unsuccessful efforts to block Russians from accessing encrypted messaging app Telegram,” Justin Sherman, a cyber-security policy fellow at the New America think tank, told the BBC.
Without more information about this test though, it is hard to assess exactly how far Russia has progressed in the path towards an isolatable domestic internet.
And on the business front, it remains to be seen just how much domestic and foreign push-back Russia will get.
Local news agencies, including Pravda, reported the deputy head of the Ministry of Communications had said that the tests of the scheme had gone as planned.
“The results of the exercises showed that, in general, both the authorities and telecoms operators are ready to effectively respond to emerging risks and threats, to ensure the stable functioning of both the internet and unified telecommunication network in the Russian Federation,” said Alexey Sokolov.
The state-owned Tass news agency reported the tests had assessed the vulnerability of internet-of-things devices, and also involved an exercise to test Runet’s ability to stand up to “external negative influences”.
Will this sort of practice every reach our shores in North America? I hate to tell you, but it already has arrived. However, not always as restrictive as is seen in Russia, China, and Iran. Apple operates it network as a walled garden and control who and what gets access to it. They claim that it is all for the sake of cyber security, but some see it as a direction to sell goods and extract dollars from user’s wallets. Many government, universities, clubs, and corporations constrain and restrict traffic flows to avoid being abused. No one wants to be front page of a newspaper due to seeing inappropriate content on their sites.
Most people accept these limitations and understand the rationale. but is it right? With my past employer being a world leader in information technology, there were always rumours of your searches being scrutinized by their Artificial Intelligence platform. While I never saw any facts to support these rumours, I still exercised great caution when using my work computer for fear of repercussions. I always struggled to know what was acceptable or not? So, I decided to make the work laptop strictly for business and nothing else. Big Brother is Always Watching.
Or, are they really watching at all? The fear of unknowing is still a powerful motivator to comply with the will of the employer. The ethics and morals clause in our employment contracts with the proverbial axe hanging over our collective heads. Is this a bad thing? I am still undecided as I can see the logic of both sides of the debate. But, as mature person, I would prefer to self govern instead of having others govern for me.
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. He is employed by Wirepas Oy from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.