Though the benefits of the internet, on free speech and on innovation and the spread of ideas, are well known, between the actions of various governments—The Economist’s latest edition reports this—and cybercriminals, the world-wide-web may never be the same again. The internet, as The Economist points out, is run by companies like Google, Facebook and Youtube who are domiciled in various countries—as are their servers—and this is what allows countries to apply local laws. Google, for instance, has been asked by European courts to implement the “right to be forgotten”, where the company would have to expunge all records not just for local content but for global users. More recently, Facebook announced that it would bring in a censor to curb its content for Chinese users. The vast number of requests from governments asking internet giants to take down content is another possible threat since many of the requests border on censorship. There is then the threat that cybercrime poses. A report by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) points to the increasing threat of cybercrime, estimated at $445 billion this year. While this is estimated to rise to $3 trillion by 2020, CIGI talks about the possibility of an increasingly frightened public worried by both crime and invasion of privacy—a ‘result of massive corporate data collection or unrestrained government or private surveillance’—‘simply stop(ping) using the network and its potential is lost’.
CIGI reckons the contribution of the internet was around $6.3 trillion, or 8% of the global GDP, in 2014 and believes its spread—especially once the internet of things gets even more pervasive—can result in an additional GDP growth of $11.1 trillion by 2025. In a splinternet scenario, needless to say, all of this is at risk. Finding a solution that satisfies all stakeholders, including governments, isn’t going to be easy, but the multi-stakeholder discussion has to be ramped up since allowing the internet to splinter isn’t an option either—especially since over-regulation will also push more people into the ‘dark web’ which is infinitely larger and is already a hub of criminal activity.