Experts split on whether tech companies will cooperate with repressive regimes

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"Indeed, in this world, commercial firms derive significant income from filtering and editing their services on behalf of the world's authoritarian regimes,” the statement read.

Many experts said they expect to see a mix of the two scenarios by 2020.

Autocratic countries can present a great business opportunity to reach new Internet and technology users, but they could also require companies to cooperate with censorship or spying on citizens.

China, for example, is a growing market, but severely restricts its citizens' access to information.

“Market pressure from competition will always keep commercial operators working on behalf of authoritarian regimes. For each organization that chooses to stand up to the demands of a dictator or tyrant, another will step in to fulfill the request,” predicted Ross Rader, general manager for Internet company Hover and one of the respondents to the survey.

But Jonathan Grudin, a principal researcher for Microsoft, said he remains "fairly optimistic ... that firms that try to control content in response to government intervention will risk being abandoned in droves, and thus forced to stick to a reasonable path." 

"We will see," Grudin said.