Autonomía digital y tecnológica

Código e ideas para una internet distribuida

Linkoteca. balcanización de internet

Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore said that the internet routed around censorship. But what if the net stopped being one big, connected thing? National governments are busy walling off their own sections, and in some cases changing the technologies that underpin it. What’s more, they’re not stopping at their own borders.

There are terms for this sliced-up internet, with rules that vary between countries. Some call it digital balkanisation. Others, like Julie Owono, call it the splinternet.

This set of digital gated communities is growing. Russia has the Runet, its domestic internet infrastructure, which it has been working to make independent from the external internet since at least 2014. The country unplugged the Runet from the rest of the world a year ago in a test run to see how it would fare on its own.

Still, national calls to wall off portions of the internet are spreading. In 2013, then-Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff called on countries in the UN to build their own sovereign internet government structures. North Korea has Kwangmyong, a centrally administered network accessible only via a heavily monitored Linux distro called Red Star. Cuba has RedCubana, an alternative to the open net that houses Cuban versions of popular websites like Wikipedia, along with local apps. Iran has its National Information Network (aka the Halal internet), a government-controlled network that hosts Iranian sites and tracks all its users. It allows heavily moderated access to the outside world.

The battleground of this splinternet, and where we really see what’s at stake, is the African continent, where billions are yet to be connected.

China has invested just over $300bn in Africa in the last two decades. In 2018 President Xi Jinping pledged $60bn in assistance, investment, and loans, $10bn of which will come from Chinese companies investing in the region.

Chinese companies have been busy helping countries in Africa roll out everything from fibre networks to smart city initiatives and data centres, as the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has documented.

The splinternet (also referred to as cyber-balkanization or internet balkanization) is a characterization of the Internet as splintering and dividing due to various factors, such as technology, commerce, politics, nationalism, religion, and divergent national interests. «Powerful forces are threatening to balkanise it», writes the Economist weekly, and it may soon splinter along geographic and commercial boundaries. Countries such as China have erected what is termed a «Great Firewall», for political reasons, while other nations, such as the US and Australia, discuss plans to create a similar firewall to block child pornography or weapon-making instructions.

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a «filter bubble» and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview. Eli Pariser argues powerfully that this will ultimately prove to be bad for us and bad for democracy.

Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google «BP,» one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else’s. And that’s what I’m calling the «filter bubble»: that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are.

Una burbuja de filtros es el resultado de una búsqueda personalizada en donde el algoritmo de una página web selecciona, a través de predicciones, la información que al usuario le gustaría ver basado en información acerca del mismo (como localización, historial de búsquedas, y elementos a los que les dio clic en el pasado) y, como resultado, los usuarios son alejados de la información que no coincide con sus puntos de vista, aislándolos efectivamente en burbujas ideológicas y culturales propias del usuario.

Un ejemplo son los resultados de la búsqueda personalizada de Google y el hilo de noticias personalizadas de Facebook . El término fue acuñado por el ciberactivista Eli Pariser en su libro que tiene el mismo nombre; de acuerdo a Pariser, los usuarios son menos expuestos a puntos de vista conflictivos y son aislados intelectualmente en su propia burbuja de información. Pariser relata un ejemplo en donde el usuario hace una búsqueda en Google para «BP» y tiene como resultado noticias acerca de British Petroleum mientras que otra persona obtuvo información acerca del derrame de petróleo Deepwater Horizon y que los dos resultados de búsqueda fueron muy diferentes entre ellas.

Según Mark Zuckerberg: «Saber que una ardilla muere en tu jardín puede ser más relevante para tus intereses que saber que muere gente en África».