The Splinternet is coming – and why decentralization can stitch it back together again

By September 18, 2019 Uncategorized

Where did the World Wide dream go?

The Internet was meant to be a great equaliser. An entangled mesh of online cultures, content and information, it promised to dissolve our physical and social boundaries, creating a digital democracy of which we are all citizens. 

Now the World Wide Web is breaking apart. A free and open internet is slowly disintegrating in the hands of governments and corporations. More and more countries are fencing off their own closed, national internets, for reasons that seem purely political at best and authoritarian at worst. 

As business starts to migrate online, governments are naturally trying to extend their powers into the digital realm. ISPs and web infrastructure companies are subject to the local laws where they are based, meaning there is no way for the internet to exist outside the control of self-serving lawmakers.

This ‘cyberbalkanization’ of cyberspace goes against its founding philosophy and original vision of “openness, co-operation and creativity.”

Weapons of mass control?

The power of a shared and open internet to affect real-world politics became most obvious during the Arab Spring. Twitter and Facebook played a pivotal role in restoring democratic processes and accountability. These social media platforms transformed into tools for coordinated activism and freedom of expression, pushing their uprisings into the global spotlight. In turn, governments are ripping these kinds of tools from their citizens hands. 

In May this year, Russia passed a law which gives its own government broad powers to control their citizens access to the internet. ISPs are now required to route all web traffic through nationally censored nodes under full state control. This “sovereign internet” could then be disconnected from the global web.

China has one of the most sophisticated censorship cultures in the world and have spent decades perfecting their Great Firewall. Citizens are blocked from foreign news websites and social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Automated, real-time censoring has been built into the domestic web infrastructure, so that even local websites are monitored 24/7 using specifically designed programs. VPNs are banned, cutting off the only digital portal to the outside world. 

China is proactively exporting this technology to other Asian countries to create a ‘top-down’ effect and spread these arbitrary practices throughout the region. There are dozens of countries which have become unfortunate social experiments for how censorship affects society, with most of them are regressing into an Orwellian dystopia of 1984. 

In these kinds of places – where democractic practices such as protest, free speech and a free press are forbidden – the internet is the only glimpse into any alternative political and social reality. The web is home to freedom of expression, self-education and a variety of opinions which help us strengthen our autonomy and critical thinking. 

Controlling access to the internet, or carefully defining its parameters, is a strategic and incredibly effective form of oppression.  

Censorship is a tool for keeping people in the dark, until nobody remembers how to turn on the lights again. 

The dreaded 404 - Keep Out

Authoritarian regimes aside, there are a number of ‘liberal’ countries and businesses based in the west which are also territorializing the internet, rather than creating a unified, open online world. It’s just as easy to keep people out as it is to confine them within digital walls – a catalyst for division, rather than unity.

Cutting off access to users based in other countries is known as geoblocking. Web hosts can revoke or prevent access for IPs based in one country, keeping out entire populations.

Reasons for geoblocking vary, but often it boils down to laziness or money – it may be easier to flip this switch than it is to consider any legal requirements when opening up your website’s borders.

Granted, it requires a lot of effort to accommodate a global userbase; every country has different rules for the use and movement of data online. Over 30 global regions and nations already impose their own ‘data sovereignty’ regulations. Some might live in jurisdictions that have strong privacy laws. This includes the EU, who last year introduced their GDPR laws designed to protect all users based in the European region. Now, any business which has customers or users based in the EU must either comply, or put up a digital fence.

But geoblocking is ‘ineffective’. The use of VPN services has risen dramatically – almost 25 per cent of the world’s entire internet population uses one. But traditional VPNs are expensive and slow. And while you might be wondering what VPN works with Netflix, you should be more concerned with their tracking of your online activity and behaviour. (More on this below.) 

To make the internet truly IP agnostic and censorship free, we just need to do a little rewiring…

If you want something done right, do it yourself

It’s unlikely that government involvement will lead to the kind of internet that we deserve. As with any movement rooted in social, political or economical progress, people are the answer. An internet powered by and for the people is the next step of its evolution. 

Everyday internet users – just like you – can fight unethical censorship and surveillance. Decentralised technologies  are designed specifically for this purpose. Through them, we can restore the internet to its former glory, where no one owns or controls it, and users can roam freely.

A decentralised VPN (dVPN) is one of these tools helping to rebuild an internet that is safe, accessible and borderless.

With regular VPNs, you have to pay for a subscription to use the service. These services are also often slow, limited and most worryingly, they keep logs of all their users’ online activity in centralised servers. A study of 62 commercial providers showed that many VPNs leak user traffic “through a variety of means.” Many also misrepresented the physical location of their vantage points, and appear to be hosted on servers “located in countries other than those advertised to users.”

With a decentralised VPN, everyday web users power the service, turning their computers or devices into ‘nodes’. It’s impossible to store data or keep logs, as traffic is routed through these residential nodes in a heavily encrypted, unrecognisable form. 

Mysterium’s own dVPN was the world’s first. We use layered protection protocols so anyone can browse the web anonymously. Your identity and IP are always hidden so anyone can bypass unethical censorship and surveillance. We also whitelist everyone who wants to become a node or access our VPN, protecting you and the entire network from bad players. 

But what is most unique about this dVPN is that it’s powered by a global network of everyday web users. Anyone can become a ‘node’ and share their unused bandwidth whenever it suits them. Nodes can earn up to $600 worth of ETH in a year through simple plug and play devices, like the RaspberryPi and AvadoBox

Uniting the WWDW

But Mysterium is just one of the many projects pioneering decentralization. The ecosystem is made up of amazing companies, initiatives and projects all working to fix our broken, vulnerable online world. 

There are numerous dVPNs and bandwidth marketplaces now entering the fold. While we’re all somewhat different, we’re all building upon the same vision. 

All these different, decentralised platforms compliment each other, coming together to form a new internet that is as accessible and open as if it were one. Everyone will have the freedom to choose between these different ecosystems, jumping from one to another easily. 

And while we may provide the infrastructure and tools, it’s our communities which will make the decentralised web a reality. The more people running a node at home, the faster, more stable and censorship resistant the internet becomes.

So what are you waiting for – help us stitch the web back together.

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