The anonymous Internet



This cartogram illustrates users of Tor: one of the largest anonymous networks on the Internet.


The data are freely and openly available on the Tor Metrics Portal, which provides information about the number of users per country joining their network every day. The average number of users has been calculated over a one-year period, prior to August 2013, when malware Sefnit “took the Tor Network by storm”, starting to use Tor for its communications and thus disrupting Tor’s usage statistics.


Tor is an opensource project promoting online anonymity through free software and volunteer collaboration. The Tor network consists of more than five thousand nodes. Tor users can connect to the network and have their Internet data routed through the network before reaching any server or webpage, thus the latter are not able to distinguish between Tor users or locate them.

Tor is the most popular and well known network of its kind, and it is used world-wide by over 750,000 Internet users every day. This is about the size of a small country; half-way between the Internet populations of Luxembourg and Estonia.

Over half of Tor users are located in Europe, which is also the region with the highest penetration, as the service is used by an average of 80 per 100,000 European Internet users. Italy in particular accounts for over 76,000 users a day, which is about one fifth of the entire European Tor daily user base. Italy is second only to the United States in terms of average number of users, as over 126,000 people access the Internet through Tor every day from the United States. The service is popular throughout the whole European region, with a high penetration in Moldova, as well as in less populous states: about a hundred Internet users connect to Tor every day from each of San Marino, Monaco, Andorra, and Liechtenstein, despite their small Internet populations.

When looking at the number of Tor users as a percentage of the larger Internet population, the Middle East and North Africa has the second highest rate of usage, with an average of over 60 per 100,000 Internet users utilizing the service. Tor is particularly popular in Israel, which accounts for more Tor users than India, while having less than 4% of its Internet users. The service is also very popular in Iran, which accounts for the largest number of Tor users outside Europe and the United States, and counts 50% more users than the United Kingdom, despite having only one third of its Internet population.

The geography of Tor tells us much about potentials for anonymity on the Internet. As ever more governments seek to control and censor online activities, users face a choice to either perform their connected activities in ways that adhere to official policies, or to use anonymity to bring about a freer and more open Internet.

Internet Tube



This schematic map shows a simplification of the world’s network of submarine fibre-optic cables.


The map uses data sourced from Each node has been assigned to a country, and all nodes located in the same country have been collapsed into a single node. The resulting network has been then abstracted.

For the sake of simplicity, many short links have been excluded from the visualization. For instance, it doesn’t show the intricate network of cables under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the South and East China Sea, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. The map instead aims to provide a global overview of the network, and a general sense of how information traverses our planet. (The findings reported below, however, are based on two analysis of the full submarine fibre-optic cable network, and not just the simplified representation shown in the illustration.)

The map also includes symbols referring to countries listed as “Enemies of the Internet” in the 2014 report of Reporters Without Borders. The centrality of the nodes within the network has been calculated using the PageRank algorithm. The rank is important as it highlights those geographical places where the network is most influenced by power (e.g., potential data surveillance) and weakness (e.g., potential service disruption).


Submarine telecommunications have come a long way since 1842, when Samuel Morse sent the first submarine telegraph transmission under the waters of New York Harbor. Today, an entire network of fibre-optic cables connects almost every corner of the world, enabling the hyper-connected world that many of us take for granted.

The United States is by far the most connected country in the world, with submarine cable landing points on both coasts that connect it to most other continents. On the other side of the Atlantic, are the second and third most central parts the global network: the United Kingdom and Senegal. The UK has been a pioneer in laying submarine cables since the second half of the nineteenth century, and still controlled almost half of the world’s submarine cables in the 1920s.

Senegal is where most of the southern Atlantic cables land, and it will be followed by Nigeria when new cables become operative this year (i.e., the WASACE cable, integrated in the “under construction” section of the “Capes” line in the illustration). Others will soon connect Latin America with Angola and South Africa as well (i.e., the BRICS Cable and SACS cables, again in the “under construction” section of the “Capes” line in the illustration). Europe dominates the immediately subsequent position in the rank. The two most central East-Asian country are China (17th), followed by India (29th), twelve positions below.

Looking at the network at a more fine-grained scale, Alexandria (Egypt) is the world’s most central node, immediately followed by Singapore and Fujairah (United Arab Emirates). The city of Fortaleza in Brazil and the town of Bude in Cornwall (United Kingdom) are the most central single points in Latin America and Europe respectively, and Accra (Ghana) dominates the Sub-Saharan African list.

The importance of being central in the submarine fibre-optic cable network is twofold. On the one hand, Internet users in central countries tend to have faster and cheaper connections to the Internet — there are no countries with low-cost Internet access that aren’t also relatively well-connected.

But we’ve also seen how certain central countries in the network have a history of engaging in surveillance of Internet traffic: as revealed by Edward Snowden and described by the Guardian and the Washington Post, for both internal and foreign surveillance. For instance, in its “Enemies of the Internet 2014”, Reporters Without Borders highlights how several British telecommunication companies “have made their infrastructure available to GCHQ, allowing it to place hundreds of wiretaps in submarine cable landing stations”. From this perspective, we also see the potential dark side of network centrality.

Broadband affordability



This map presents an overview of broadband affordability, as the relationship between average yearly income per capita and the cost of a broadband subscription.


The maps use the “Fixed (wired)-broadband monthly subscription charge, in USD” indicator published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the 17th edition of the World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database. We map 2011 data, being the most recent information available for this indicator in the dataset.

The ITU defines the indicator as the following: “Fixed (wired)-broadband monthly subscription charge refers to the monthly subscription charge for fixed (wired)-broadband Internet service. Fixed (wired) broadband is considered to be any dedicated connection to the Internet at downstream speeds equal to, or greater than, 256 kbit/s. If several offers are available, preference should be given to the 256 kbit/s connection.”

The data also refer to the monthly cost of the cheapest entry-level subscription in any place. These values have been multiplied by twelve to obtain a yearly cost, and weighted over the gross national income per capita (Atlas method, current USD) data available from the World Bank, referring to the same year (2011).

The graph on the lower-left corner illustrates the evolution of the cost of broadband over time.


This visualization speaks to one of the core themes of the global digital divide: the relative cost of being connected to the Internet. The geographies of the phenomenon could hardly be more clear, and its consequences are illustrated in many other visualizations published on our website, from the cartogram of the Internet population to the graphic depicting the geographic distribution of the top-level domain names.

We see that the price of a broadband connection in most parts of Africa is out of reach for people on average incomes. Said differently, Africans need to pay ten times as much of their salary (if looking at the ratio of income to connectivity costs) for broadband as people in the rest of the world.

A monthly broadband subscription costs about 60 USD both in Australia and Mozambique. However, while the average yearly gross income in Australia is around 50,000 USD, the same figure in Mozambique is less than 500 USD. This means that while an average worker in Australia could pay for a year’s worth of connectivity with one week’s salary, a Mozambican worker would need over one and a half year’s salary.

This situation does not mean that costs in Africa aren’t dropping. The average cost of an African Internet connection is now half of what it was four years ago, thanks to a series of cables laid around the African continent in 2009. Kenya and Nigeria, for instance, have 2011 broadband costs that are respectively 21% and 8% of what they were in 2008. These changes have undoubtedly contributed to the significant growth in the number of Internet users seen by both countries. The most striking drop in broadband cost has been observed in Burkina Faso, which has gone from over 1,700 USD a month to a most reasonable 55 USD (which still, however, represents 100% of the salary of an average worker).

Eritrea is the country where the Internet is least affordable. A yearly subscription there is the equivalent of almost fifty year’s worth of an average salary: an entire life of work! Over 18 countries still face costs of Internet subscriptions higher than the average income, including 14 Sub-Saharan African countries, the landlocked countries of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and the islands of Kiribati and Solomon Islands. A broadband Internet connection cost over 500 USD a month in the Central African Republic, Guinea, Malawi, and Swaziland, as well as in Cuba, where, according to the ITU, 1,700 USD was still not enough to buy a subscription.

India and Sri Lanka have the cheapest broadband access prices, where access can be obtained for as little as 6 USD a month. Europe and North America have higher absolute costs, ranging between about 10 and 40 USD a month, but have some of the lowest relative costs in the world: with a couple of hours of work a month being sufficient for an average worker to afford the cost of connectivity.

The data mapped here are some of the world’s most important indicators. Without the ability and means to connect, the opportunities, the information, and the communication mediated and afforded by the Internet all remain impossible.

Mapping the Times Higher Education’s top-400 universities



This map depicts the locations of the world’s top 400 universities as ranked by the Times Higher Education. It also illustrates the relative wealth of the country that hosts each university.


The map uses data from the World University Rankings 2013-2014, published by the Times Higher Education, in collaboration with Thomson Reuters. Thirteen indicators that measure teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook are taken into account in order to evaluate universities.

Each university is represented as a square, and shaded according to the World Bank income group that its country belongs to. The four World Bank income groups are high-income (GNI per capita of >$12,616), upper-middle income ($4,086 – $12,615), lower-middle income ($1,036 – $4,085), and low-income (<$1,036). We exclude the low-income category from this map because not one of the 400 universities is located in a low-income country.

The universities are grouped by world region, and the equator is depicted as a red line towards the bottom of the map.

Some universities are further grouped into metropolitan region clusters. The clusters have been identified using the DBSCAN density-based clustering algorithm, applying a 50 km distance threshold, and a minimum cardinality of four universities. Because of the compact nature of many European cities, we further refined some clusters manually in order to achieve meaningful definitions of metropolitan regions.


The primary finding is that most of the world’s top-ranked universities are located in the world’s wealthiest countries (a point also made by Benjamin Hennig and his cartograms of the Times Higher Education rankings). The Greater London cluster alone, which does not include Oxford and Cambridge, contains the same number of top-400 universities as all of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America combined!

Not only are there are no low-income countries represented in the ranking, but India is also the only lower-middle income country represented, being home to five of the top-400 ranked universities. Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are home to three universities each, all six being based in upper-middle-income countries (i.e., Brazil, Colombia, and South Africa). These eleven elite universities in India, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa serve a population of over 2.7 billion people.

The ranking also includes ten universities in China, an upper-middle-income economy that is home to over 1.3 billion citizens, and seven other universities from the same income group: five in Turkey, one in Iran, and one in Thailand. The remaining 34 Asian universities included in the ranking are mostly concentrated in densely populated (and wealthy) cities like Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, and Singapore.

The Middle East and North Africa also reveals a relatively concentrated geography of elite universities. Of the six universities included from the region, three are in Israel, two in Saudi Arabia, and one in Iran.

Oceania is interestingly the largest world region (in terms of number of top universities) present below the equator. All the top-400 universities in this region are found either in Australia or New Zealand, with two large clusters in Melbourne and Sydney.

Almost half of the top-400 universities are located in Europe, and over a quarter are in the United States. Northern Europe and the US East Coast are home to some of the largest university clusters, most notably in Greater London and Boston.

It’s important to remember that there are tens of thousands of universities that aren’t represented on this map; what this graphic doesn’t do is visualize the potentials or practices of all higher education worldwide. However, what it does do is clearly illustrate the highly uneven geography of elite education. The universities in the top-400 list don’t just command an undue amount of power, resources, and influence, but also serve to actively produce and reproduce it in particular parts of the world.

Age of Internet Empires



This map illustrates the most visited website in each country.


The map uses freely available data retrieved Alexa on August 12th, 2013. The company has provided website analytics since 1996. Alexa collects data from millions of Internet users using one of over 25,000 different browser extensions, and the data used for this visualization were calculated “using a combination of the estimated average daily unique visitors to a site and the estimated number of pageviews on that site from users in that country over the past month”.

The data are visualised as a choropleth map, where the colour indicates each country’s most visited website. Starting from the evident dominance of two companies (Google and Facebook), whose colours (red and blue, respectively) cover most of the map, we styled the illustration as an old colonial map, and named it after the computer game series Age of Empire. A second map below illustrates the same data, using the hexagonal cartogram of the Internet Population 2011.


The supremacy of Google and Facebook over any other site on the Web is clearly apparent. We also see an interesting geographical continuity of these two “empires”. Google is the most visited website in most of Europe, North America, and Oceania. Facebook, in contrast, is the most visited website in most of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as much of the Spanish-speaking Americas.

The situation is more complex in Asia, as local competitors have been able to resist the two large American empires. Baidu is well known as the most used search engine in China, which is currently home to the world’s largest Internet population at over half a billion users. At the same time, Alexa reports a puzzling fact that Baidu is also listed as the most visited website in South Korea (ahead of the popular South Korean search engine, Naver). We speculate that the raw data that we are using here are skewed (thus, this datum is not shown on the map). However, we may also be seeing the Baidu empire in the process of expanding beyond its traditional home territory.

The remaining territories that have escaped being subsumed into the two big empires include Yahoo! Japan in Japan (in join venture with SoftBank) and Yahoo! in Taiwan (after the acquisition of Wretch). The Al-Watan Voice newspaper is the most visited website in the Palestinian Territories, the e-mail service is the most visited in Kazakhstan, the social network VK the most visited in Belarus, and the search engine Yandex the most visited in Russia.

Alexa does not provide much information about countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, most countries that have a significant Internet population are covered. Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, and South Africa fall within the sphere of Google’s empire, whereas Ghana, Senegal, and Sudan have been subsumed within Facebook’s dominion.

The power of Google on the Internet becomes starkly evident if we also look at the second most visited website in every country. Among the 50 countries that have Facebook listed as the most visited visited website, 36 of them have Google as the second most visited, and the remaining 14 countries list YouTube (currently owned by Google).

The countries where Google is the most visited website account for half of the entire Internet population, with over one billion people, as illustrated in the map below. Thanks to the large Internet population of China and South Korea, Baidu is second in this rank, as these two countries account for more than half a billion Internet users, whereas the 50 countries where Facebook is the most visited website account for only about 280 million users, placing the social network website in third position.

We are likely still in the very beginning of the Age of Internet Empires. But, it may well be that the territories carved out now will have important implications for which companies end up controlling how we communicate and access information for many years to come.


Internet Population and Penetration



This map illustrates the total number of Internet users in a country as well as the percentage of the population that has Internet access.


The map uses 2011 data on Internet users and total population datasets that were obtained from the World Bank. The World Bank has tracked the number of Internet users and Internet connections per country since the 1990s as part of its Worldwide Governance Indicators project.

The data are visualized with a hexagon-shaped cartogram in which the size of each country is drawn based on its population of Internet users. Each hexagon accounts for about one third of a million Internet users. Countries with fewer than that number have been removed from the map. The shading of each country reflects its Internet penetration rate: darker shades indicate higher levels of Internet usage in the population.


The distortion in the map paints a revealing picture about human activity on the Internet. China is now home to the world’s largest Internet population at over half a billion. The United States, India, and Japan then follow as the next most populous nations of Internet users.

Looking at the largest Internet countries, we see two important trends.

First, the rise of Asia as the main contributor to the world’s Internet population; 42% of the world’s Internet users live in Asia, and China, India, and Japan alone host more Internet users than Europe and North America combined.

Second, few of the world’s largest Internet countries fall into the top category (>80%) of Internet penetration (and indeed India falls into the lowest category, at <20% penetration). In other words, in all of the world’s largest Internet nations, there is still substantial room for growth.

We also see an interesting geographic pattern of Internet penetration. All but four of the countries with an Internet penetration rate of over 80% are in Europe (Canada, New Zealand, Qatar, and South Korea being the exceptions).

The map also reveals interesting patterns in some of the world’s poorest countries. Most Latin American countries now can count over 40% of their citizens as Internet users. Because of this, Latin America as a whole now hosts almost as many Internet users as the United States.

Some African countries have seen staggering growth, whereas other have seen little change since we last mapped Internet use globally in 2008. In the last three years, almost all North African countries doubled their population of Internet users (Algeria being a notable exception). Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, also saw massive growth. However, it remains that over half of Sub-Saharan African countries have an Internet penetration of less than 10%, and have seen very little grow in recent years.

It is therefore important to remember that despite the massive impacts that the Internet has on everyday life for many people, most people on our planet remain entirely disconnected. Only one third of the world’s population has access to the Internet.