How Trade Wars Impact The Internet

Posted: Oct 23 2019, 6:23am CDT | by , in Technology News

 

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How Trade Wars Impact the Internet

The internet was always envisaged as a tool that was beyond the reach and petty squabbles of politics. However, while the technical infrastructure of the internet has remained mostly free from political interference, the people and businesses that use it have not. The current trade war between the US and China is beginning to strain the political neutrality of the online space and impact the internet in a number of ways. But this is not the only time geography blocked the free exchange of information.

How Trade Wars Impact Tech

One of the more prominent casualties of the current tussle between the world’s economic superpowers is Huawei. The Chinese telecoms giant has always been controversial in some quarters. Intelligence chiefs from the Five Eyes nations (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) have long been opposed to the widespread use of Huawei telecoms equipment for national infrastructure projects.

In China, there is little distinction between large corporations and the Chinese state. While Huawei and the Chinese government continue to deny any accusations of collusion and point out, quite correctly, that laws compelling Chinese businesses to comply with Chinese intelligence agencies are not dissimilar to laws in democratic states.

However, Huawei remains one of just a handful of businesses in the world that could provide the infrastructure needed for the 5G networks of the future. 5G networks will offer users blisteringly fast speeds, on par with a high-speed internet connection, wherever they are. China’s economy is evolving and continuing to move away from basic manufacturing to a more high-tech output. US intelligence officials have been adamant that this shift is being driven by the widespread theft of intellectual property.

Trump’s Tariffs

The Trump administration has insisted that the tariffs it has levied on Chinese imports are a necessary tactic to bring China to the negotiating table so these issues can be addressed. However, experts have pointed out that efforts to add national security concerns into what are ostensibly trade negotiations are muddying the waters.

Representatives of the US government, including the Secretary of State, have been visiting other nations and encouraging them to ban Huawei equipment from their national infrastructure projects. Doing so would set back other nation’s rollouts of 5G technology by years and would cost them billions of dollars.

US Sanctions

US sanctions already mean that some popular services have become unavailable around the world. Back in July, developer community GitHub, the largest host of course code in the world, began blocking accounts whose IP addresses or payment information was associated with countries currently subject to US sanctions. This meant that developers from countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Crimea found themselves unable to access their repositories, having received nothing in the way of forewarning.

The first indication that something was wrong came on 25 July, when a number of prominent developers took to social media to express their shock and confusion at losing access to their GitHub accounts and all the work stored within. GitHub’s terms of service specify that Github may not be used by individuals who are subject to export control or sanction laws set by the US. As with most online platforms that publish user content, GitHub places the onus for ensuring compliance with the law on the users.

GitHub is a subsidiary of Microsoft who, at the time the bans were implemented, was in fierce competition with Amazon to land a cloud computing contract with the Pentagon. This might go some way to explaining the heavy-handed approach. Numerous developers also took to social media to complain that they had been locked out of their accounts despite having no association with any of the sanctioned territories.

For an example of how unnecessary this approach was, look no further than the other Git hosting platforms. For example, GitLab took a much more reasoned approach to the situation. While migrating their infrastructure away from Microsoft Azure and over to Google Cloud, they were informed of their legal obligations by Google. GitLab responded by implementing a roadmap which they shared with the community. This gave developers the time they needed to move their work over to another platform before they lost access to their GitLab accounts.

Slack

For many, the GitHub situation was reminiscent of an incident a year before when Slack also mass banned a number of users from countries under US sanctions. Slack users from Sudan, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Crimea all found that they were unable to access their Slack accounts without being given any prior warning about the impending actions. Some of them still found a smart way to access their accounts. Of course, not all of them.

GitHub and Slack’s defenders have pointed out that both services explicitly prohibit users from sanctioned nations from creating an account and using their services. They also give themselves significant latitude to implement bans without notice when users violate the ToS.

Localization

In order to avoid these sanctions, some businesses have taken to creating localized versions of their websites and services. These localized versions aren’t just translated into local languages, they involve total localization, meaning that servers and other infrastructure also become localized. By entirely localizing their services, businesses can circumvent the sanctions currently in place and provide their services to other regions of the world.

The Impact on Politics on the Internet

The internet was envisaged as a global network kept free from potential state interference. However, as we have learned over the last couple of decades, this is not how things work in practice. In reality, there are a number of ways in which politics have affected and continue to affect the way that the internet works.

Around the world, the internet is restricted and controlled in a number of different ways. In the US, citizens have always assumed that their internet is safe because of democratic safeguards. However, since net neutrality ended, the door has been open to an internet much more susceptible to the effects of domestic politics.

The internet is a decentralized communications tool that enables any two users to connect and share data. This can seriously undermine international diplomacy by enabling citizens of nations embroiled in disputes on the international stage to directly talk to and interact with one another. It was perhaps inevitable that global politics would impact the internet and we are now beginning to see those impacts in action.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Manfred "Luigi" Lugmayr () is the founding Chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 25 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets, tech and online shopping. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology news and tech and toy shopping hub.
Luigi can be contacted directly at ml[@]i4u.com.

 

 

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