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The internet is changing. The outcome of the recent spat between the Centre and Twitter is one among many instances which may alter the future of the world wide web. The open web, now a mere shadow of its former self, is often dubbed as the splinternet. Mint decodes.

What is a splinternet and its core principle?

A fusion of the words “split" and “internet", the splinternet is a fragmented version of the world wide web with national identities. The reasons for this ‘split’ include global politics, national security, religion and more. In its original form, the internet transcended borders and allowed people unfettered access to virtually everything, while the splinternet limits citizens’ access to data, forces businesses to keep data within borders, and even changes how they operate within a state. Splinternet is often defined as the balkanization of the net, as nations try to preserve their sovereign identities and economic interests.

Are there different versions of intranet?

The best-known example is China’s Great Firewall, a mash-up of a real firewall and government policies, which limits access to data and is heavily surveilled by the state itself. Another example is Kwangmyong, the internet in North Korea, where access to data is not only regulated and limited, but people have to seek special permission to even use it. Iran’s National Information Network is another example, while Russia found a way to wean the country off the global internet in 2019, and instead run an “intranet". A fully national internet could almost negate VPNs, which are used to access data unavailable within a country.

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Where does India stand on internet censorship ?

In its letter to WhatsApp about its new ToS, the Centre invoked the upcoming Personal Data Protection Bill and said consent is a key aspect of regulations enshrined in the bill. The recent spat with Twitter will impact how intermediaries function in India, and what people can and cannot say online. India’s policies are mostly driven by nationalism, say experts.

How does splinternet affect the consumer?

For the consumer, the splinternet’s biggest impact is in limiting access to information . For instance, in partially complying with the government’s recent blocking order, Twitter stopped some accounts from being visible within India. Rules and policies also lead to rise in costs of businesses, and may force some to move out of the country altogether. India has also gone after encryption protocols used by apps like WhatsApp in the past, which can potentially impact user’s privacy and increase government surveillance.

Is the splinternet good for democracies?

Strictly speaking, no. But it’s also a necessity. For instance, when India banned TikTok, it led to growth of homegrown platforms like Moj, Josh and Roposo, many of whom also raised funds on back of this new growth. Additionally, keeping data within the borders does give the government more power to regulate platforms and has real repercussion on national security issues. But while firms might gain from India’s rules now, they will have to deal with the consequences when they try to enter foreign markets.

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