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(also cyberbalkanization)

Splinternet definition

Splinternet, or cyberbalkanization, is the division of the internet into smaller, isolated networks, often because of regional, political, economic, or regulatory reasons. This division happens because certain governments create regional intranets to control what users in these regions can access. These intranets are isolated from the broader, open internet, which becomes inaccessible to users in these parts of the world.

See also: internet security

Why the splinternet forms

  • National control. Certain governments want to control their national internet infrastructure. To do so, they may establish national intranets largely isolated from the broader internet.
  • Government censorship. Some countries seek to censor various websites and services, such as social media platforms or news outlets.
  • Data localization laws. Nations might require that companies store data related to their citizens within the country's borders. This can be due to data privacy concerns, economic interests, or surveillance.
  • Economic and competitive pressures. Countries may want to promote their own tech companies over foreign competitors. For example, a nation may favor a domestic search engine or social network over its international counterparts.
  • Technical standards and protocols. Countries may use varying technical standards or protocols, potentially incompatible with the global norms.
  • Security concerns. Fears of cyberattacks or espionage might push countries to limit international digital interactions.

Splinternet examples

  • China's “Great Firewall” China has established strict controls over its internet, blocking many foreign websites, including popular ones like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia. Instead, domestic platforms like Baidu (search engine), WeChat (messaging and social media), and Sina Weibo (microblogging) dominate in this region.
  • Russia's Sovereign Internet Law. This law allows Russia to operate its own internal internet infrastructure independently from the global web. It gives the Russian government more control over online content within its borders and can isolate its internet if needed.
  • Iran's National Information Network (NIN). NIN is an ongoing project in Iran initiated to develop a domestic intranet isolated from the worldwide internet. Part of the network promotes Iranian alternatives to popular services, like video sharing or e-commerce platforms.