No Chinese walls on the internet

No Chinese walls on the internet

Summary: China is fighting the web's inherent openness. It can't win — and that has profound implications for business

TOPICS: Tech Industry

Fifteen years ago, digital activist John Gilmore said: "The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." It's a principle that's been extensively tested ever since.

One of the biggest tests is taking place right now in China. A country that wants to be seen as modern, trustworthy and connected is employing many thousands of people and vast amounts of technology to prevent its population from reading and writing what they like on the net. In so doing, it underlines the truth of Gilmore's maxim: China may have a massive secret-police machine and an iron grip on its public connectivity, but the details of what it's doing are known, and will continue to be known. A whitewashed window in a house of glass is a powerful statement — and a hopeless wish.

It is good to remind ourselves of the basic law of the internet that lies behind this: any system capable of delivering bits from one node to another across a complex network doesn't just encourage openness — it enforces it. That lies behind the continual failure of DRM, of legal and political efforts to curtail open source, of walled gardens and national barriers alike. How many clues do you need?

Whether you are a Chinese politician trying to keep the lid on corruption or a chief information officer concerned with information flow within a company, that realisation has profound implications. You can fight it. That's the instinctive reaction. But that fight will consume as much energy as you can muster, with no guarantee that what works today will be worth a farthing tomorrow.

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Wisdom dictates a different approach. Worlds do change, and new environments demand adaptation instead of denial. Information design in the new age isn't about how to keep things secret, but how to have as few things secret as possible. We know that such a radical approach can work and work well; it is increasingly obvious that those who embrace such a philosophy will be best equipped to prosper in the years ahead. That will be a hard path, but there is no other — and the time to start the change in thinking is now. As China told the world hundreds of years ago: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Chinese walls versus Security

    The idea that everything is interconnected, and relies on such to work, therefor reinforcing the original rule, is quite an interesting premise, to say the least.

    I wonder how organisations trusted with national security would reply to such a discussion? The various spy agencies around the world emply a myriad of techniques to lock down environments, but more importantly information.

    Should they just throw open their doors to state secrets?

    I think its fair to say that there are ways and means of achieving security. The real discussion here is not so much technical. Rather, its why a journalist seems to have misunderstood that there is a cultural issue at play, yet blindly stands upon the plinth of technology, proclaiming all things should be open.

    Tut tut.

    Perhaps you should go back to school and learn a little more about cultural relations.