Could Russian sanctions trigger the ‘splinternet’?

European sanctions being imposed on individuals and companies believed to have ties to the Kremlin increases the danger that the internet could be split and siloed along political divides, according to the main internet registry for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia.

RIPE NCC, a non-profit which hands out IP domain names to internet services providers around the world, has had to freeze the accounts of companies with significant connections to individuals linked to the Russian government, meaning those institutions can no longer obtain new IP addresses.

Chris Buckridge, an adviser at RIPE NCC, said that these sanctions have created a “real danger” that the Russian government will decide to utilise its own domain registration process, which could have serious ramifications for the integrity of the global internet and the ability to communicate across borders.

“You’re incentivising a regional breakaway from the international registry,” he said, noting that the ability to purchase or sell existing IP addresses is posing serious challenges to sanctioned companies’ ability to continue operating.

As part of its 2019 sovereign internet law, Russia set up a database of all of its network providers and a Domain Name System (DNS) — like a phonebook for the internet — detailing all national IP addresses. The fear is that this regional DNS could start generating its own IPs that are divorced from the global system, thereby fragmenting communication around the world.

Buckridge said that there is now an opportunity for non-profits and governments to work together to determine “how to reduce the risk posed to the global internet” by sanctions law. And, he points out, some are listening.

Earlier this month, the US created a general license to exempt certain communication services from US sanctions against Russia — including domain name registration services.

The question now is whether the EU will follow suit.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Twitter is looking more favourably at the possibility of a sale of the social media company to Elon Musk for $43.4bn, according to people who have spoken with the FT. Twitter’s board was still meeting early on Monday to finalise the terms of an agreement with Musk and a deal could be reached this very day. The billionaire chief executive of Tesla has lined up $25.5bn in debt — including a margin loan of $12.5bn against his shares in the electric vehicle maker — from a group of banks led by Morgan Stanley. He has also said he would provide $21bn of equity for the deal.

2. In the early hours of Saturday morning, after nearly 16 hours of negotiations, legislators in Brussels endorsed measures preventing companies such as Facebook and Google from targeting minors with online advertising, while manipulative techniques that force people to click on content will be banned. Under the Digital Services Act, leading tech groups will be forced to disclose to EU regulators how they are tackling disinformation and war propaganda in order to curb the spread of fake information — an effort that has gained fresh momentum since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

3. Investors in Vodafone are urging the FTSE 100 telecoms group to speed up long-awaited dealmaking to improve its performance. For several months, Vodafone has told investors that it would pursue deals with rival groups in markets where there is significant competition, such as Spain, Italy and the UK — but so far it has been unable to pull off any of these. Now, a number of Vodafone’s shareholders have told the FT they are keen to see the company pursue transformative deals, with a particular focus on its spun-out towers business, Vantage Towers.

4. Hopin, the virtual events start-up that gained a $7.8bn valuation during the pandemic, is enduring some tough days. Top-tier venture capital firms like IVP, Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global have clamoured to invest in the group. Meanwhile, founder Johnny Boufarhat sold $195mn worth of his own shares, according to a Financial Times analysis. But with Covid beginning to recede and publicly traded technology stocks being dumped by investors, Boufarhat now faces a moment of truth as he tries to build a sustainable business that lives up to the lofty expectations it set during the pandemic.

5. Ecolab, the hygiene company backed by Bill Gates, fired two employees who had acted as whistleblowers, alerting management to an executive’s misconduct. The individual, who was not named for legal reasons, was found to have shared confidential and sensitive client data from two key competitors with colleagues using work email. Three months after the complaints were filed, Ecolab fired the two whistleblowers, arguing their jobs had become obsolete in an internal restructuring.

Tech tools —

The release of the Air 5 iPad has got the FT’s Jamie Walters salivating. He explains that even though on the face of it, this wafer of aluminium looks near identical to its predecessor, with the same sharp liquid crystal display and USB-C port, it is now fitted with the M1, Apple’s most powerful processor. It also has 8GB of RAM, which, in terms of speed and memory, puts it on par with laptops. According to Walters, it’s extremely slick to operate, basically daring you to open hundreds of tabs while streaming a show or game. And the cellular version comes with superfast 5G connectivity.