By Claudio Lilienfeld
In the age of the Internet, key questions abound about how emerging powers such as India and China will affect and reflect the global rise in information availability and flows, and what impact that will have on commerce, politics, and culture. Most presume the battle lines are being drawn along the lines of democracy versus authority, but the reality is much more complicated.
All countries globally grapple with balancing the benefits of the Internet (vital commerce, inclusive economic opportunity, cultural vibrancy, and political expression) with global and local challenges (national security, privacy, protecting the vulnerable, and respecting cultural norms). The biggest question is whether the “rest” will favor the principles of openness as the best guarantors of national interest, seeing them as universal rather than simply as an imposition of the West.
One critical factor in the direction countries take will be whether they recognize and choose to harness the enormous economic benefits of open platforms and the free flow of information. New data are emerging regularly that show that when countries commit to unfettered movement of information across the Internet — except where necessary to achieve a legitimate, limited government objective – they are supporting increased exports, domestic jobs and innovation, and contributing to the strength of the entire global economic trading system.
A recent McKinsey report found that the Internet accounted for 3.4 percent of GDP in 13 countries examined. And virtually every entity globally – business, government, university, cultural institution, or NGO – relies on the Internet to power its business, work, research, and communications, or aspires to do so.
Ultimately, global trends, including economic and geopolitical power shifts reflecting the “rise of the rest,” are poised to ride on the back of an open Internet — which can serve both as a catalyst and a vehicle for propelling these shifts.
Claudio Lilienfeld is Senior Policy Manager for the Asia-Pacific at Google.