The fragmentation of the Internet is marching along.
Europe went all “opt-in” — effectively halting a significant part of the Internet’s financing mechanism all in the name of privacy, without fairly considering the social and economic ramifications on competition, diversity, and democracy. (Or worse, they considered these aspects — and shut it down, anyway.)
China (and most despotic countries) bar access to much Western content. Will Hong Kong be next? Meanwhile, many of these “closed” countries are active players in using digital channels to stoke up social division and to meddle in free nations’ democratic processes.
And then there’s the rest of the global Internet — and the organic, disruptive, and innovative way it is built, maintained, and paid for. Simply allowing data to flow to responsible uses, and enable such exchanges to finance news, apps, games, email, social platforms, video, niche content, and so many other content and conveniences it would be impossible to list them all.
But what if “they” — starting with policymakers in this country — took the extreme step of mimicking Europe, eschewing third-party data collection and use, destroying all of the free content such data transfers pay for, and effectively put today’s open Web behind pay walls and data walls?
Sound very elitist? It is. Sound anti-progressive? It’s that, too. Anti-commercial? You bet. Anti-competitive? Very much so. Anti-consumer? Oh yes, it’s that, too. The deleterious effects may be already underway.
And if we’re not careful, it may just happen in the country that is most responsible for building the Global Information Economy as we know it. What a travesty it would be to throw such leadership away.
A recent study — just looking at the app world — gives a glimpse of what’s at stake. Looking at just nine top-used mobile apps, consumers state they would value access to such content at approximately $173 billion per year — content that is free to them today, thanks to ad financing. Wow! Further, current ad revenue for these apps is a tiny fraction of these assigned values. So, net, there is a huge economic dividend to consumers (and the economy) because these funds stay in consumer pockets, or are spent elsewhere.
As we march forth on privacy-first, we must consider what could happen if such responsible data uses were shut down by short-sighted public policy. What if the result were a “dumb” Internet? There’s still time for U.S. leadership, pragmatism, and a sensible way forward.