Internet Splintering

due to server-side (geo)differentiation and embargo sanctions

Is your internet experience the same as mine? If not, why?

The Internet Splinting Project aims to understand how the features of a users Internet connection such as their geolocation or IP address affect their experience online, what is causing this differentiation, and what can be done about it.

Take our survey

About the Internet Splintering Project

Research on censorship has long focused on ISPs or governments; but few know that online content providers and services also treat users differently based on the features of their network connections, such as location or means of connection. This leads to users in different countries experiencing a vastly different splintered Internet.

Our prior research in 2018 suggests that server-side blocking, a phenomenon where server operators intentionally deny access to users from particular countries or regions, is at rise. Our research in 177 countries shows that many shopping websites deny access to users from certain regions, and finance and banking sites geoblock users from sanctioned regions.

Our recent work studied geodifferences in 5,684 popular mobile apps in the Google Play Store in 26 countries. We find a wide disparity in mobile app availability, with 3,672 apps unavailable from at least one of the countries under study, either due to developor blocking or due to government-requested takedowns. We also find significant geodifferences in the security and privacy offerings for the same apps in different countries.

In this project, we aim to go beyond these previous work and develop a comprehensive picture of Internet splintering


Phase 1

Many online content providers and services discrimate against users in countries that are under embargo sanctions. The scope of this differentiation is wide: from software development infrastructure to social platforms to educational services. Especially in the past two years where a majority of services, work, and education has gone digital due to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of sanctioned countries have had to deal with the concern and frustration of being differentiated by services they may even rely on and ones they need.

With our research, we aim to shed light on the current state and widespread nature of embargo-based differentiation, identify ill-founded restrictions, and advocate for service providers to exercise caution and accountability when applying restrictions under the reason of embargo.

By getting involved, you will be able to learn about the prevalence of server-side differentiation, as well as share your experience with us. We want to hear what services and apps are unavailable for you due to server-side differentiation, the impact of server-side differentiation from your perspective and eventually, discuss with service providers to debate how the negative impacts of server-side differentiation can be reduced.

User Survey

You may take this survey if you have faced restrictions by such Internet services due to sanctions.

Take our survey

Measurement Tool

Our tool detects whether certain websites, services or apps are accessible from a particular region and determine the mechanisms behind access restrictions.

Contact

Questions? Contact us at splintering@umich.edu for more information!


Email us

Publications

August 2022 USENIX Security Symposium

A Large-scale Investigation into Geodifferences in Mobile Apps

Renuka Kumar Apurva Virkud Ram Sundara Raman Atul Prakash Roya Ensafi

PDF

@inproceedings{kumar2022geodifferences, title={A Large-scale Investigation into Geodifferences in Mobile Apps}, author={Renuka Kumar and Apurva Virkud and Ram Sundara Raman and Atul Prakash and Roya Ensafi}, booktitle={USENIX Security Symposium}, year={2022} }

November 2018 ACM Internet Measurement Conference (IMC)

403 Forbidden: A Global View of CDN Geoblocking

Allison McDonald Matthew Bernhard Luke Valenta Benjamin VanderSloot Will Scott Nick Sullivan J. Alex Halderman Roya Ensafi

PDF

@inproceedings{Allison2018403,
title={403 Forbidden: A Global View of CDN Geoblocking},
author={Allison McDonald and Matthew Bernhard and Luke Valenta and Benjamin VanderSloot and Will Scott and Nick Sullivan and J. Alex Halderman and Roya Ensafi},
booktitle={ACM Internet Measurement Conference},
year={2018}
}

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