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Will U.S. Tech Companies Be Able to Operate in National Intranets?

— June 4, 2019

Online privacy is something that many either don’t believe in or take for granted. In some other countries, Internet use is severely restricted via national intranets. Will U.S. businesses be able to cope?

Internal Internets, or intranets, have become a common tool for governments to control people’s online privacy. Countries such as Iran, South Korea, and China have already developed their sophisticated intranet systems. They hope that intranets can be used as an alternative to the global Internet. Russia has recently shown interest in internal Internet systems. The country plans to disconnect from the global Internet in April 2019.

They have developed their intranet to give people and organizations a way to communicate with one another during times when global Internet is not available. Russia plans to use the intranet as a communication alternative in case of the activation of a kill-switch that would disconnect the country from global Internet to protect it from a cyberwar. Russia hopes that disconnecting from the global Internet would reduce the country’s attack surface. It would also allow it to defend its data and organizations in case of a major cyberattack.

The Negative Side of Intranets

Even though intranets can help defend countries, complex infrastructures, and organizations, they come with a negative side as well. Intranets can serve as an effective defense system in case of a cyberwar. But, they are also used to restrict people’s access to global information. The citizens using the intranet might be connected within the country, but they would not be able to access any information outside of it

In case this scenario became a reality, access to the outside world through the Internet would be absolutely cut off. Governments could use intranets to control and even monitor communication between large groups of citizens within the country. The entire idea of intranets goes against the aims of many large U.S. companies such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

Will U.S. Tech Companies Operate in Intranets?

Google and other U.S. corporations are trying to push their services into the enormous Chinese market. Even though the intranet policy is getting in their way, companies such as Apple and Google have shown interest in the current Internet policies. Both the CEO of Google, Sundai Pichai, and the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, attended China’s World Internet Conference. In addition, both corporations are actively searching for solutions and ways to ensure a spot for U.S. tech companies in China, Iran, South Korea, and other countries that use intranets.

According to Sarah Cook, the Freedom House’s senior research analyst for East Asia, trying to comply with local regulations would only be a waste of time for U.S. tech companies. “Rather than develop tailor-made products to comply with China’s draconian censorship rules, we believe tech companies’ resources and ingenuity would be better spent on helping users jump the Great Firewall and access the uncensored version of their products,” Sarah said for The Verge.

However, it seems like the majority of U.S. tech companies have chosen to abide by the laws rather than to help users access uncensored content. This explains why Apple removed over 25,000 applications from the Chinese app store back in 2018 and why they removed certain VPN apps in 2017.

How to Avoid Internet Censorship

Despite the authorities’ attempts to censor certain types of content and services on the Internet, users can still access restricted content using virtual private networks (VPNs) through an application or a browser extension. It is an effective solution for bypassing restrictions and accessing services provided by U.S. companies.

Man in darkened room, wearing sunglasses and using laptop; image by NeONBRAND, via
Man in darkened room, wearing sunglasses and using laptop; image by NeONBRAND, via

The process of activating a virtual private network is quite simple. After you find a reliable VPN provider, download their app on your device and connect to one of their servers in any location you like. That way, the device connected to the VPN will be able to access all services provided by companies located in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world.

Besides removing content restrictions, a VPN will encrypt every piece of data that travels from your device to the server. In other words, all text messages, calls, and transactions that travel to and from your device will be encrypted and secured. Thus, this app can significantly improve the overall security of your digital devices and systems.

Internal Internet systems might be one of the best defense solutions in case of a worldwide cyberwar. However, we must not forget that governments are using intranets for other purposes as well, mainly to monitor and control communication between their citizens. It is evident that there are significant differences in terms of how China, Iran, and South Korea treat people’s online privacy compared to the United States.

U.S. tech companies widely advocate Internet freedom, which goes against governments and organizations that stand behind national intranets. Therefore it is likely that if these tech giants want to do business in China or Iran, they will have to obey their laws. 

As for now, users located in countries with strict Internet censorship will still have to use VPNs to access most of the services provided by U.S. tech companies.

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