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Former Google chief predicts the Internet will split by 2028: A Chinese Web and an American one

Google's China headquarters in Beijing. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg News)

Google’s former chief executive predicts that the global Internet will split in two within the next decade, bifurcating into a Web led by the United States and another helmed by China with fewer freedoms and greater censorship, according to CNBC.

Eric Schmidt, who served as executive chairman of Google and later its parent company, Alphabet, offered his projections during a private event Wednesday in San Francisco convened by the venture capital firm Village Global, CNBC reported.

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Village Global and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Schmidt said he thinks people will likely see “fantastic leadership in products and services from China,” noting the scale of the nation’s business, the massive wealth being created there and the advance of global trade, according to the report. But he acknowledged the country’s growing economic influence may have political consequences: “There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.," CNBC reported.

Schmidt stepped down from his role as Alphabet executive chairman earlier this year, but he remains a member of the board and a technical adviser.

His remarks come at a precarious time for Google, as the company contemplates a return to the Chinese market, and draws criticism from its own employees and lawmakers for its supposed willingness to cooperate with China’s censorship controls.

Last month, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai told staff at an all-hands meeting that the company is in the “early stages” of considering a re-entrance in China, according to Bloomberg News, but that developers were not close to finalizing a search product.

Pichai’s address to the company came after the Intercept revealed Google’s plans to develop a government-compliant search engine that would block Chinese users from accessing certain websites and using search queries blacklisted by Beijing.

A bipartisan group of six U.S. senators wrote a letter to Pichai last month describing Google’s potential return to China as “deeply troubling,” noting China’s repressive surveillance regime and human rights abuses. Google employees have also protested the plans. According to the New York Times, more than 1,400 workers signed an internal letter, calling on the company to create an oversight process to evaluate the China project and other plans that “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.”