Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and executive chairman of Google-parent company Alphabet, predicts the next decade will see two versions of the world wide web: One led by China and one led by the US. He stated his thoughts on Wednesday at a private event in San Francisco, as reported by CNBC.
At the event, economist Tyler Cowen posed a question regarding the possibility of the internet dividing into multiple versions, based on different regulations, restrictions, and access limitations, said CNBC.
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In response, according to CBNC, Schmidt said:
I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc. Look at the way BRI works – their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries – it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.
Google has supposedly been developing a version of its search engine that complies more with Chinese authorities. Called “Project Dragonfly,” this version is more censored, suppressing sensitive search results. The announcement of “Project Dragonfly” caused major backlash from Google employees, who had no knowledge of its development. In fact, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter stating that Google’s effort to meet China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues,” reported CNBC.
Google’s current CEO Sundar Pichai responded that Google has been “very open about [its] desire to do more in China,” and how the team “has been in an exploration stage for quite awhile now,” but is nowhere near actually launching a censored search engine in China, said CNBC.
The rumored project is Google’s attempt to stay relevant and useful in China, as its size and user-base is significant.
A stronger separation of internet versions could radically affect online business. Organizations with a significant online presence must prepare for the possibility of an internet split, as it would have a large impact on their brand and their ability to sell globally. Firms should make themselves familiar with current Chinese regulations in the event that this bifurcation does happen, so that they can be better prepared.
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicts the internet split into two versions within the next decade–one that complies with China’s censorship restrictions, and a more open version led by the US.
- Google’s current CEO Sundar Pichai, said the company’s Project Dragonfly censored search engine is only in discussion, there isn’t a plan for it to be implemented soon.