During the first week of October, the Iraqi government shut off the Internet for three hours a day as sixth graders across the country sat for their national placement exams. The country conducted these blackouts for the sole purpose of preventing the kids from cheating.
These Internet blackouts, however, may have caused more harm than good. While sixth grade test-takers were cut off from accessing answers to the exam, the rest of the country was consequently isolated from the rest of the world. Not only did it make it more difficult to contact emergency services, the blackout could also have given cover to severe human rights abuses in a country already experiencing serious unrest.
A new report has revealed the widespread damage that a short disconnect from the Internet can cause a country’s economy. In the report, Darrel West, the director of Brookings’ Center for Technology Innovation, discusses the negative economic impact caused by 81 Internet shutdowns that occurred in various countries between the summers of 2015 and 2016. He estimated that the decrease in activity during the shutdowns caused a minimum loss of $2.4 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide.
According to the report, India was the country that was most severely harmed by its own Internet shutdowns as the nation lost out on roughly $1 billion in GDP. Saudi Arabia cost itself $465 million, while Morocco lost $320 million and Iraq lost about $209 million.
Internet blackouts are becoming more and more frequent among politically unstable countries across the globe. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Washington revealed that the number of government interferences with the Internet began to rise rapidly in the early 2000s and has only gotten worse since 2010.
Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn, said that “National blackouts these days seem fairly unremarkable due to the prevalence as of late.”
He cited connectivity interruptions in Iraq and Syria; partial blackouts in parts of Venezuela, Kashmir, and Ethiopia; and bans on social media platforms in Brazil, Turkey, and Pakistan.
Of course, cutting people off from the world wide web causes all sorts of harm beyond the economic consequences. However, West focused on the damage in monetary terms in hopes that government officials would be more likely to think twice about an Internet blackout with these figures in mind.
There are currently about 4.49 billion webpages on the Internet, connecting people from every corner of the world. When one group of people is cut off from the global marketplace even for just a few hours, transactions are not performed and information is not received. Because this is how we conduct business and share ideas in the 21st century, excluding people from participating is more or less the equivalent of ordering an embargo or cutting off a community’s resources.