One of Google’s most senior executives issued a stark warning tonight that the power of the internet to free some of the world’s most oppressed people risks being overturned by autocratic governments who seek to “Balkanise” the web by controlling what can be accessed.
Eric Schmidt, the current executive chairman of the Silicon Valley internet giant, said technology had the potential to be a “great leveller” which would empower the poor like never before. But he added that dictatorial regimes were increasingly looking to control who has access to the web by “filtering information they fear or prohibit.”
The 57-year-old software engineer, who stepped down as Google’s CEO last year after more than a decade in the driving seat, called on the international community to “fight for the future of the web” stating that at least 40 governments are now known to engage in online censorship compared to just four a decade ago.
“Last year we saw in Egypt what happened when a government tried to turn the Internet off, “ he said last night in a speech at the Science Museum in Kensington, referencing the moment when the struggling regime of Hosni Mubarak tried to block the web in the face of mass street protests. “Now many governments are attempting to build their own walled Internet, a Balkanised web in which you and I do not see the same information and no one knows what has been censored.”
Using somewhat apocalyptic language, he stated that web users “face the real possibility we could end up living in society in which software silently deletes our voices, our thoughts our culture.”
“Make no mistake, he added. ”This is a fight for the future of the web and there is no room for complacency.”