China’s ongoing censorship of websites is almost universally known. It may be tempting to think that being a citizen of another country — a country without censorship in place — means you’re unaffected. Unfortunately, in a world increasingly connected through the internet, such censorship is far-reaching and has the potential to impact many across the world.
The most frequently associated issue with censorship is the lack of information exchange between two areas. Information isn’t getting freely in, and it isn’t getting freely out. This lack of transparency breeds suspicion and distrust in the interpersonal world. In the business sphere, censorship can have even greater repercussions.
It’s no secret that China is at the forefront of new technology, both in terms of production and idea creation. As more China-based businesses and goods become available in other countries, it’s likely the politically-motivated principles of censorship may become even more of an issue for other countries.
The Global Market and China’s Growing Tech Capabilities
Censorship in China has certainly changed over the years, and it isn’t that access to the internet is forbidden. Rather, it’s heavily monitored and cultivated, which shapes what information the Chinese population has access to, and works to prevent collective action that could endanger the acceptance of the current social and political structure.
Recent developments have resulted in a ban on some China-based companies operating inside the United States. Unsurprisingly, many United States-based tech companies are also not allowed in China due to censorship. With the tech needs and the sheer size of the population, removing this portion of a consumer base is a significant loss for some tech giants. As a result, many of our heavy-hitting tech companies out of the United States have made concessions to China’s protocols. In return, China allows those companies and those products to have a place in the country.
For many companies — and countries — the reluctance to enter into working partnerships with China goes much deeper than the fear of introducing similar censorship in their home country.
What’s at Risk?
It’s worth noting that the internet is not bound by country borders. While China’s internet censorship is focused on its citizens, there is the possibility that those outside the nation will be impacted. This is especially true during worldwide crises and for global travelers.
As China prepares to move to a new system that requires all PCs to have Green Dam software, it is poised to have more control, and that’s likely to have an impact on other areas as well.
In addition to the risk that censorship might be embraced by other countries is the risk that tech-savvy China may use its products to glean sensitive information from other governments. These security risks are a viable threat, and many fear that moving forward with Chinese companies could lead to cyberattacks, spying, and in general leave other countries vulnerable.
Ideally, companies and countries opting not to engage in business deals with companies that pose such a risk would end any possible risk. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In our growing global market, where items are readily available online and can be shipped to any part of the world, many products that could pose such a risk do make their way into countries. Available at a great price point, many people continue to turn to these products that could leave their home countries at risk.
While it’s true many countries haven’t embraced censorship the way China has, it’s also clear that true online freedom is hard to attain. Data is gathered and recorded, behaviors and locations can be used for targeted sales advertisements.
Take the steps needed to retain as much online freedom as possible, opting to use encrypting software on personal devices and surf the internet anonymously, and, in the months and years to come, keep a close eye on any new technologies that trade convenience for anonymity — left unchecked, these may change the way we view online freedom.