Alphabet’s former executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, predicted at a private event on Wednesday night that the internet would split in two by 2028. Schmidt was speaking at an event put on by the investment firm, Village Global VC. He said that rather than splintering, we could see a China-led internet and the current U.S.-led internet.
At the event, 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.
If you think of China as like 'Oh yeah, they're good with the Internet,' you're missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. 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.”
The Belt and Road Initiative that Schmidt mentioned is a geopolitical construct that will allow China to trade more easily, by land and sea, across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Some expect this project to increase China’s political and economic influence on participating countries which could also see them adopt a China-led internet, if one emerges.
The comment comes just weeks after it was revealed that Google is trying to set up search engine in China that complies with local laws; the project is called Dragonfly. The new search engine would apparently store users' contact numbers and some sensitive terms would be blacklisted.