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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Four Internets: Data, Geopolitics, and the Governance of Cyberspace

Four Internets

Excerpt available on the OECD Forum Network

Interview with Kieron O’Hara on US National Public Radio

The Internet seems a fixed and permanent part of our world. Indeed, its importance during the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted its centrality as critical infrastructure for government, commerce, work, education, socialisation and many other areas of life. Yet it is a surprisingly delicate mix of systems, protocols, standards, hardware and organisations, in the public, private and NGO sectors. It is in a state of permanent evolution, and there are many different political views of what it should be like.

Kieron O’Hara and Wendy Hall have been investigating how the Internet is governed, in a series of articles culminating in a book to be published by Oxford University Press in 2021, Four Internets: Data, Geopolitics and the Governance of Cyberspace. Vinton G. Cerf, Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google, one of the Internet’s leading pioneers and thinkers, has contributed a Foreword to the book. See also:

The book describes the Internet, and how Internet governance prevents it fragmenting into a ‘Splinternet’.

Four opposing ideologies about how data flows around the network have become prominent because they are (a) implemented by technical standards, and (b) backed by influential geopolitical entities. Each of these specifies an ‘Internet’, described in relation to its implementation by a specific geopolitical entity.

The Four Internets are:

These Internets have to coexist if the Internet as a whole is to remain connected.

The book also considers the weaponization of the hacking ethic as the Moscow Spoiler model, exemplified by Russia’s campaigns of misinformation at scale; this is not a vision of the Internet, but is parasitic on the others. Potential future directions of Internet development are considered, including the policy directions that India might take, and the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, smart cities, the Internet of Things, and social machines.

Related articles

The Internet is changing daily, as we all use it and shape it to our needs. But, as Four Internets makes clear, politics, economics and even crime change it as well.

The Four Internets jostle for position, as governments pursue their global interests. As the rules-based international order breaks down, ideologies have become the chief drivers of change. Four Internets is the essential read for understanding the roots of online conflict.

Some of the stories in recent days or weeks that testify to that flux can be found here

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