Blog Post

The Balkanization of the Internet Must Stop

This balkanization of the internet or as others call it cyber-balkanization, splinternet…. Is real. It’s happening in plain daylight, in front of our eyes.

I love the Internet! I love it so much it became the cornerstone of Catchpoint’s vision to help the Internet deliver on its potential for everyone.

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture by Professor Rawi Abdelal from Harvard Business School where he spoke about the rise of physical borders fueled by the fear of immigration, the impact of globalization and the fast pace of changes happening worldwide.

Around the same time, we witnessed Russia blocking a wide range of IPs belonging to major cloud providers such as AWS and Google, impacting many other services. A digital border was erected in minutes impacting thousands of services and millions of users. We all know about the Chinese firewall, but many other countries have those same capabilities. Information and freedom of expression are seen as real threats.

In the conclusion of that post, I wrote about the dangers of the balkanization of the internet. Where each country enacts their own set of rules. These rules present multiple roadblocks in terms of application performance and providing a consistent end-user experience no matter their location. Technology is ingrained in our daily lives, both at work and personally. Different rules in different locations threaten our ability to do our jobs and stay connected.

Written a few short weeks ago, the enactment of GDPR is accelerating the reality of this quote:

“The world wide web is not a monopoly, there are thousands of companies relying on shared services from cloud providers, DNS providers, CDN providers, CRM solutions… this is a ticking bomb! Imagine if tomorrow a country decides to block AWS, then Akamai, then DYN and Salesforce, lights off!”

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union (EU) law regarding data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU. Passed on April 14, 2016. Companies had until today, May 25th to comply. Today, the enactment of the GDPR is causing US companies to simply block access to their sites to European users rather than comply with GDPR.

Tronc, an American media company that publishes newspapers including The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and The Baltimore Sun decided to block access to their web properties from the EU instead of facing hefty fines. Accessing the LA times from Paris looks like this today (as measured by our nodes in Paris on SFR):

In 1992, I arrived in Paris to start my college education, I bought a computer and via a friend connected to the internet via Eeunet, a French ISP. At this point, I realized the awesome power the Internet could have on the entire world. I would stay awake for days trying to understand and learn how this thing worked.

The last time an invention changed humanity at this scale was in 1453 when Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press. The internet was going to bring the best of humanity, sharing of ideas, ideals, knowledge, and collaboration were going to be realities.

In many cases, those goals have been achieved.

My two Gutenbergs are Vint Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. I have had the pleasure and honor of meeting Vint Cerf during my time at Google and at Catchpoint when we hosted an AMA. Sadly, I have not met Sir Tim Berners-Lee but recently read with passion his 29th WWW birthday note. Very timely!

The GDPR enactment for me is the last straw in this continuous attack on the foundations of the Internet. I do not blame the Europeans for trying to protect their citizens, at the end of the days our lawmakers are elected to do that, protect us. In the US, the silly debate about Net Neutrality is the complete opposite of what lawmakers should do. They are protecting big corporations and not the end users, the citizens.

This balkanization of the internet or as others call it cyber-balkanization, splinternet…. Is real. It’s happening in plain daylight, in front of our eyes, fueled by either corporate greed or by some lawmakers that barely understand how the Internet works. But we, the users will lose.

Shame on us!


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