How the “Great Firewall” extends beyond China
When people read about Internet censorship in China, they rarely consider that practices of censorship and surveillance by tech companies operating in that country may have significant consequences for the privacy and freedom of expression of Internet users in other countries, including the United States. However, James Griffiths, author of “The Great Firewall of China,” a book on internet censorship in China, is concerned that “the version of [Internet] products that the Chinese market use could become the versions that we end up using.”
Tech companies interested in offering applications to Chinese citizens need to comply with stringent data collection laws. Because China is a massive market, many international firms choose to comply. However, since producing fundamentally different versions of the same products is expensive, Griffiths believes there is a real possibility that US and international tech firms will eventually start introducing Chinese censorship-compliant solutions in the US and other countries as well.
In general, Griffiths sees strong similarities between the Chinese Internet censorship apparatus, known as the Great Firewall, and surveillance in the US. As the author explains: “None of these [private] companies have been created by the [Chinese] government for the purpose of surveilling people.” Instead, “[t]hey have been co-opted by the government for the purpose of surveilling people.” The situation in the US isn’t that different, as many private companies including Verizon and AT&T allow the US government to monitor their users.
Unfortunately, simply avoiding companies with bad privacy records is not a realistic option according to Griffiths, because “you can’t live a normal life without kind of participating in the surveillance capitalism economy.” The author furthermore believes that in order to be effective, the fight against Internet censorship should go hand in hand with practical initiatives to develop a more transparent Internet.