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The need for a split internet in digital society

The need for a split internet in digital society

… and if this happens, CIOs will be especially impacted, so look well ahead at how a bifurcated network would impact you

Credit: ID 154649341 © CrailsheimStudio | Dreamstime.com ID 154649341 © CrailsheimStudio | Dreamstime.com

A split internet would result in a significantly less vulnerable society

Paul Schenck, Gartner

For all the opportunities that digital disruption creates, also come vulnerabilities. Private data that enables smarter systems and custom experiences are getting hacked regularly. The information systems we rely on are being corrupted and disabled. 

The internet — as originally designed, and even with its rapid rate of evolution — can’t overcome these vulnerabilities. What we need instead is an accountable and secure internet layer to be developed that protects our digital lives. At the same time, however, there’s a global desire for anonymity and privacy that can create challenges for the accountability of “bad actors.” 

One of the ideas we’ve been discussing in Gartner’s Maverick research think tank is the need for a split internet. To meet privacy demands from governments and users, an anonymous internet could be developed that protects digital privacy. Together with the accountable internet, this bifurcated network would deliver the characteristics needed for our digital lives. 

If this happens, CIOs will be especially impacted, so look well ahead at how a bifurcated network would impact you. Think about how your organisation will build digital capabilities in each network. 

The accountable internet

Many industries and individuals would benefit greatly from an internet that holds users tightly accountable for their activity. Stock exchanges, financial and health services, and most B2B activity in general, would stand to gain the most from it. All digital internet traffic today for these industries takes place on a network that wasn’t designed with bad actors in mind. 

A primary element of the accountable internet would be authentication for all users and their traffic, establishing a level of trust that actions and data were coming from a specifically defined entity. 

Today, identity and tracking are commonly established via IP and/or MAC address, but there are ways to obfuscate these, such as virtual private networks and proxy servers. A new and authenticated network would eliminate these workarounds.

Once authentication is established, activities need to be traceable. This can be accomplished through a variety of methods, such as blockchain or traditional methods of tracking via centralised databases. 

Control is also important. To ensure adequate levels of protection for data on participants and their actions, this layer will be composed of closed channels of communication backed by encrypted protocols.

To prepare for the accountable internet, determine the proper levels of strong authentication needed for members of your internal organisation, customers and partners. Identify which activities your organisation needs to track and move toward implementing technologies to enable traceability.

The anonymous internet

Citizens using the current internet are pushing governments to enact legislation to improve their privacy and give them a certain level of anonymity. 

There’s a great deal of entertainment and interaction that doesn’t need to be tied to the strongly authenticated and traceable network of the accountable internet. Television, radio, books, periodicals, blogs, news, digital video and audio should be able to be experienced anonymously, as well as peer communications.

The rapid growth in video is significant enough to warrant its own network layer with other similar content that requires limited tracking. This is the anonymous internet.

Other traffic beyond passive entertainment would also be good candidates. By leveraging private, temporary or federated identities, interactive platforms – such as social media, instant messaging, gaming and message boards – would benefit greatly. 

When users aren’t concerned with their personal information being tied to their communications and views, it empowers them to more freely share their ideas and consider new perspectives. These varying perspectives are increasingly being shut out of the current internet due to lack of anonymity.

The close monitoring of individuals’ activities also plays into the personalised content that furthers filter bubbles. The previous searches, clicks, likes and other interactions of users drive personalisation that can have negative effects in the form of polarisation. 

The push for private identities will reduce the amount of tracking that’s possible. By effectively limiting the traceability of user activity and identity, the anonymous internet will, in part, dodge the applicability of privacy laws. This is another significant bonus of a network that can be used by organisations without worrying about liability. 

Open access is critical. Little or no authentication should be required to participate. The open nature of the anonymous internet already has a solid foundation in many elements of the current internet.

To prepare for the anonymous internet, establish general profiles for advertising purposes based on the content itself. Find alternative revenue sources, including customer interactions without having to know their identity, to compensate for the shortfall in personalised advertising. Also, reduce dependencies on trackable behaviour, or move those system to the accountable internet, while placing greater emphasis on one-time transaction capabilities for other scenarios. 

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Towards a less vulnerable society

A split internet would result in a significantly less vulnerable society. The accountable internet would reduce business vulnerabilities though its authentication, traceability and control. The anonymous internet would improve personal vulnerabilities through private or random identities, limited tracking, open access and participation.

It would take at least 10 years to split the internet due to technical, functional and legal complexities. All types of people and entities would be impacted — including government bodies, public sector, general public, military, police, criminals and private sector companies. We think it’s a solution worth looking at. 

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Paul Schenck is a senior principal analyst at Gartner. He covers strategy and best practices for all phases of the postmodern ERP lifecycle from an execution and project management perspective. 

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Tags strategyinternetGartneronline safetydigital inclusionMaverick ResearchPaul Schenckdigital vulnerabilitiesbifurcated networkfractured internet

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