The mix of politics and censorship is fracturing the global internet landscape, isolating users and industries accustomed to bypassing national borders. Sino-Indian tension has continued to run hot ever since the confrontations along the Line of Actual Control left casualties on both sides. New Delhi had announced a permanent ban on 59 Chinese apps in retaliation, claiming that these apps were secretly transmitting users’ data to servers outside of the Indian state. Now recently President Trump has announced his intentions to ban TikTok from the US, citing the app’s issues with security, privacy, and its relationship with the Chinese government.

TikTok, the popular social media-video sharing platform and one of the first Chinese internet services to have a global fan base primarily in the US and India, has become victim to deteriorating diplomatic relations between rival states, much like its contemporary Chinese export: Huawei Mobile. This is a sign that the digital world, once considered a global landscape, free from territorial divisions, is being carved up along the same lines of alignments that separates the physical one.

China has a history of censoring or outright blocking western internet services such as Facebook and Google, creating a market for homegrown upstarts like WeChat. China’s internet service companies are running out of new internet users to win over at home. They see in global markets, particularly the largely populated India, a vast market brimming with potential. But such expansion has met considerable resistance as distrust between Beijing and Washington grows further. Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, has been largely cut off from American technology suppliers and is engaged in legal proceedings from accusations that it is a Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence services.

Globally, there has been a recent upsurge in government interest to reclaim control over commerce and digital speech, adding to the internet’s increasingly balkanised landscape. The consumer marketplaces are being used as a geopolitical cudgel, to facilitate state interests and regional power plays. The European Union has taken stricter steps against tech giants such as Apple and Google, forcing them to adapt to local rules, fining Google more than $9 billion for breaking antitrust laws, and forced Apple to pay about $14.5 billion for dodging taxes. Margrethe Vestager, head of the European Commission’s antitrust division, has said that policies need to be made to investigate how companies use data beyond national servers.

Hong Kong’s new internet law mandated last month allows covert digital surveillance along with police censorship and the changes threaten to inflame further tensions between the United States and China. Many big tech companies, including Zoom, Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook have said that they would temporarily stop complying with requests for user data from the authorities. TikTok though has exited from Hong Kong, with most experts citing that a perception of non-compliance could lead the company to draw the ire of Beijing. Mike Pompeo, the American secretary of state, has said that “countless” companies doing business in the US might be passing on data including addresses, facial recognition patterns, contacts and phone numbers to the Chinese government.

Internet services are becoming victims of the growing chasm between global powers, particularly the US and China. Cyberspace was once a haven for transnationalism but is now becoming subject to stricter government controls. With a wave of populism leading to sweeping political decisions, the digital age is facing newer threats to liberalism—as far as cyberspace is concerned.