US measures against TikTok and WeChat raise fears of fragmentation of the internet

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A ban on popular Chinese mobile apps TikTok and WeChat in the United States could further fragment an already fragile global internet, industry experts fear.

Fears have grown this week after decrees from Donald Trump banning any transaction “of persons under American jurisdiction” with ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, and Tencent, owner of the WeChat platform, within 45 days.

Taken under the guise of a threat to national security, despite the absence of hard evidence, these restrictions run counter to the long-held American ideal of a global and open internet and could cause other countries to emulate the United States, experts say.

“This is truly an attempt to fragment the internet and the global information society along an American-Chinese fault line and exclude China from the information economy,” said Milton Mueller, professor at Georgia Tech University and founder of the Internet Governance Project.

According to Mr. Mueller, this move aims to “create a Western firewall”, which would be applied globally via US economic sanctions and would be akin to the Chinese “Great Firewall” – pun on the “Great Wall” (“Great Wall”) of China and the “firewall”.

But this could backfire on the Silicon Valley giants because “many nationalist governments around the world could make the same accusations against Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter” about the use of personal data, says Mueller.

“This will be the open door to nationalist obstructions and the regulation of these social media,” he predicts.

“Clean Network”

The measures decreed this week by Donald Trump are in line with the State Department’s “Clean Network” project, the objective of which is to prevent the use in the United States of Chinese applications and services deemed “no”. reliable. ”

This initiative could lead to a confused situation in some countries, which would be forced to choose between the Chinese and American ecosystem, says independent analyst Richard Windsor.

“The digital divide between China and the West is widening and countries stuck in between (in Africa and parts of Asia) will have to decide which side they want to go,” Windsor writes on his Radio Free Mobile blog.

For Adam Segal, of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American decisions raise the notion of “cyber-sovereignty”, long defended by China and fought by the United States.

“That a country has the right to isolate itself from the global internet by banning or restricting foreign technologies is really a Chinese idea,” Segal notes.

“The United States defended the opposite idea”, that of “a free and open Internet”, he continues.

Mr. Segal observes that the global internet was already “on slippery ground” after the decisions of countries like Russia and India to limit data flows.

But the recent measures of Washington “undermine the capacity of the United States to promote these ideas and there could be a backlash against American companies”, warns the specialist.

For Daniel Castro, of the Foundation for Innovation and Information Technologies, the American threats would pose “a serious risk of fragmentation of the Internet” if they were carried out.

“The United States needs to be careful in saying that there is a national security risk inherent in the use of foreign company technology,” Castro said.

“If other countries follow the same logic, American tech companies will be left out of many foreign markets,” he explains.

Especially since these actions are guided by vague security fears and by the mistaken belief that they make it possible to counter the rise in power of China, judge Mr. Mueller.

“The Trump administration thinks it can slow down China’s development as an economic and technological power,” the expert notes.

“The idea that it is possible to interrupt the development of China by cutting ties with them is stupid, that is not going to happen,” he continues.

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