A digital iron curtain
It’s a perfect storm that could lead to Russia finally isolating its population from the rest of the global internet, just like China has already done.
“The crisis is definitely a flashpoint, and likely a turning point, for Western platforms operating in Russia,” said Jessica Brandt, policy director for the Artificial Intelligence and Emerging Technologies Initiative at the Brookings Institution. , to CNN Business. “Moscow will no doubt continue to pressure platforms to remove unflattering content, using all the levers at its disposal. If companies comply, public backlash elsewhere in the world will be intense,” a- she added.
Can the Russian Internet survive without Western technology?
While China has spent decades building up its far-reaching censorship capabilities and has almost always blocked most Western tech platforms from operating in the country, Russia is trying to make that shift while waging war. Russia’s ability to deploy the same level of technology as China is questionable, whether it’s making Western platforms completely inaccessible or even censoring specific content and topics in real time, as does the Chinese government frequently.
“I think a nuanced difference between Russia and China is that China has the technical capability – their big firewall is very sophisticated and Russia doesn’t have that much,” said Xiaomeng Lu, director of the practical geotechnology for Eurasia. Group. “As much as they [Russia] I want to do a full and complete block, I think technically there are challenges.”
Unlike China, millions of people in Russia have been accustomed to accessing global technology platforms, and cutting them off from these platforms altogether is something the Russian government under Putin has so far refrained from taking. But that is rapidly changing as the war and resulting Western sanctions continue to escalate.
“Closing it completely, I think, risks some sort of political backlash for the government,” Lu said. However, she adds, “that type of fear is losing out to the fear of regime survival. longer term”.
“It is the Russian people who will lose a lot”
While the Russian government seems more than ready to kick Western tech platforms from its digital borders, the same cannot be said for the Russian people.
“The Russian government has everything to gain from Big Tech’s exit,” Brandt said. “It is the Russian people who will lose enormously if they are denied access to non-governmental news and information and denied the means to organize themselves.”
There are already signs that Russians are looking for ways to evade internet blockages. Five of the top 10 downloaded apps in the country last week were virtual private network (VPN) apps that allow users to create a more secure internet connection. Downloads of the most popular VPN apps during this period collectively increased by more than 1,300%, according to app tracking platform Sensor Tower.
Somehow, the digital iron curtain seems to be falling.
Lu admits it’s hard to predict exactly how quickly a complete separation of Russia’s internet from the world will take place, but recent developments indicate it could happen in “weeks or maybe even days.”