The word appears from time to time, and it comes back insistently since the war in Ukraine: Splinternet, a new term that combines “splinter” (“splinter, splinter” in English) and “internet”. In other words, the Internet has broken into several isolated spaces. The term is part of the context of geopolitical rivalry between the United States, Russia, China and the European Union, where everyone realized that imposing their technological rules and standards was a way to impose their values and satisfy their interests. A group of experts, mandated by a European body dedicated to science and technology issues, published a report on the topic for the European Parliament in mid-July 2022. The result is an inventory and serves to fuel future legislative work regarding technologies.
“The uniqueness and openness of the Internet is now subject to political, economic and technological pressures. Actors such as Russia and China are trying to restrict their citizens’ access to global public content and align IT infrastructures with their national borders,” Immediately refer to the authors: Clément Perarnaud, specialist in Internet governance issues at CEPS (Centre for the Study of European Policy), Julian Rossi, data protection expert, Francesca Luciani from Center Internet et Société du CNRS and Lucien Castex from Media and Culture, Institute for Communication and Digital Research at the University of The new Sorbonne. But they also point to the lack of interoperability of some technologies offered by private companies, trapping users in “technology silos.”
google or Independent Technical Infrastructure
The examples are numerous. Access to Facebook and Twitter has been restricted in Russia since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022; diversion of Internet traffic from the occupied territories to the Russian technical infrastructure; Russia’s own efforts to build a national Internet, RuNet, is separate from the rest; International connections were routed and disconnected from Cambodia’s national internet traffic in February 2021. But also the threat announced in February 2022 by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, to pull its social networks out of Europe due to controversy over user data. Or technology trends in general for Google “It seems to be building an independent technical infrastructure” Also notes the report.
Even content personalization and targeting of Internet users, which results in serving different content to each other according to their profiles, is seen as breaking, with as many “internets” as the number of Internet users. Splinternet is a controversial and confusing term from the 2000s, Clement Pirarnaud notes. Our goal was to study the hashing process more than the access point. But the Internet, by definition, is already fragmented, it is a network of tens of thousands of independent networks linked by interoperable protocols.
This confusion is due to the fact that not everyone always talks about the same thing when it comes to the Internet. This can be considered either as technical architecture or as a public space. “Fragmentation can matter this or that.”
DNS vs. IDN
Hence the variety of levers that make it possible to amplify the phenomenon, ranging from “simple” censorship by blocking content to major technical maneuvers at the heart of networks. Modify the encryption protocols or make the addressing system non-interoperable with the current system, DNS, for example. “ISPs are already able to block access to sites, but we’re seeing the emergence of national DNS”, Clément Perarnaud continues. The report notes the emergence of the Internationalized Domain Name (IDN), which is supposed to take into account the non-Latin script (Arabic, Cyrillic, Hindi, Chinese) and compensate for the shortcomings of the DNS. However, several technical issues prevent IDN from fully aligning with the historical system, with the effect of creating language silos.
In 2019, China formally proposed to the International Telecommunication Union the “New IP” project, a new Internet protocol created by private Chinese companies in this field. Except that the central force that has its antennas everywhere in the industry will, above all, be a maneuver by the Chinese state to tighten its control over the Internet, and not only in China.
The authors also believe that the General Data Protection Regulation, in place in Europe since May 2018, has led to a form of fragmentation. Sites, which are often US, no longer allow European IP addresses to connect to them, to avoid being subject to European rules on personal data protection. Evidence that good intentions, once translated into technology, can harm the Internet’s original openness.