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Preventing the Balkanization of the Internet

With the entire global economy becoming inextricably linked to the Internet and digital technologies, stronger regulation is more important than ever. But if that regulation is fragmented, clumsy, heavy-handed, or inconsistent, the consequences for economic integration – and, in turn, prosperity – could be severe.

BEIJING – The recent revelation that more than 50 million Facebook profiles were harvested by app and given to political consultancy Cambridge Analytica has produced a backlash against the platform. But it is just the latest example of the risks associated with the Internet, which forms the core of today’s digital revolution.

Most of the digital innovations that have reshaped the global economy over the last 25 years rely on network connectivity, which has transformed commerce, communication, education and training, supply chains, and much more. Connectivity also enables access to vast amounts of information, including information that underpins machine learning, which is essential to modern artificial intelligence.

Over the last 15 years or so, mobile Internet has reinforced this trend, by rapidly increasing not just the number of people who are connected to the Internet, and thus able to participate in the digital economy, but also the frequency and ease with which they can connect. From GPS navigation to ride-sharing platforms to mobile-payment systems, on-the-go connectivity has had a far-reaching impact on people’s lives and livelihoods.

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