Dangerous And Ridiculous: Facebook Won't Let Sites Join Its Internet.org Program If They Encrypt Traffic

from the bad-move dept

Karl touched on this with his recent post on Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg defending his Internet.org and its walled garden of “zero rated” services, but it deserves a separate post. You see, part of Zuckerberg’s announcement was that Internet.org was expanding to let in other sites, but there are serious restrictions, and there’s a big “sorry, you’re not welcome” for sites that use HTTPS to protect the privacy of their users:

To qualify, they must meet three criteria:

  • they cannot be data-intensive. Videos, high-resolution photos and internet-based voice and video chats are among the banned content
  • they must be able to run on cheaper feature phones as well as more powerful smartphones. To ensure this is the case, the use of JavaScript, Flash, the secure HTTPS communications protocol and certain other web-based products are not allowed
  • they should encourage the exploration of the broader internet if possible, to encourage users to ultimately pay for access

You could raise serious questions about all of these conditions, and the kind of walled garden that Zuckerberg is building, but keeping out HTTPS services at a time when the protection it provides is vitally important seems ridiculous.

To be fair, when confronted on this, Zuckerberg claims this is only a temporary situation, mostly driven by the fact that older handsets/browsers can’t handle HTTPS, but frankly that’s a weak excuse, given the risks associated with unecncrypted traffic.

You’d hope that the answer to this situation isn’t “give them insecure internet” but “let’s figure out how to secure things before we expose them to dangers online.” Zuckerberg keeps going with the “better than nothing” argument here. To him, the limited, walled gardens are “better than nothing.” And an security-disabled internet is “better than nothing.” But given the risks, shouldn’t he be striving for something better? Real access to the real internet in a way that protects the privacy of these users?

Filed Under: , ,
Companies: facebook, internet.org

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Comments on “Dangerous And Ridiculous: Facebook Won't Let Sites Join Its Internet.org Program If They Encrypt Traffic”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Not defending Zuckerberg or anything here, but, it does pay to stop and think for a minute about where Internet.org is being deployed and what devices people in these areas have to connect to the internet.
These aren’t college kids in Missouri with MacBooks and fibre, this is deep Africa and an old Nokia.
The needs of the customers of Internet.org are not the needs of us, and it is an error to see them like that. It’s a kind of cultural myopia.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And you miss the problems inherent in that assumption, that they don’t WANT to do more with the internet. The types of phones being discussed by Zuckerburg (cheap feature phones) are way more capable then the old Nokias you describe, and its only limited to a community notice board because facebook limits it to being a community notice board, and is still claiming its giving them the internet. ALso, the assumption that the only reason you want secure communications is ‘online banking and tax returns’ is a bit disingenuous as well. The inability for anyone, including facebook, to know what you are doing on the internet is a big step forward for human rights, and facebook wants to undermine that.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nope that’s crap too.. Look up “Facebook lite” it’s an android App that is ONLY available in non ‘western” countries (or by download from non App store places) and you will see it has pure encryption, ability to stream video and high photos, as well as incorporates FB CHAT, Facebook,FB Groups, and EVERYTHING that facebook itself can do..

Oh and it’s used by any Android variant from version 2.1 upwards. Also it’s been ported to Symbian as well.

Who made it you might ask? Well FACEBOOK themselves did.

How big is it? — under 300 Kilobytes!

So this bullshit about not able to do SSl, Streaming, or data intense stuff is total BULLSHIT and is another reason why everyone needs to avoid internet.org like the plague and go with other things that are not reliant on a company with major ulterior motives.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I had a cheapie flip phone many years ago that could be used to access web sites in a limited fashion. But it could handle HTTPS as well as Javascript. New cheapie flip phones commonly sold in poor countries are even more capable than the ones I had in those days.

Zuckerberg’s explanation is shaky at best. The more likely explanation is that they want to be able to examine all traffic to extract data they can monetize.

DannyB (profile) says:

An encrypted layer can be built on top of this

Both ends of a connection need encryption. That encryption does not need to be built into the internet infrastructure you are using. All you need is the ability to communicate messages, like raw packets, or ‘packet messages’ of data over a TCP connection.

Those messages are encrypted blocks. The other end that you connect to has to understand them.

So that other end could be some sort of relay or gateway to the free internet and that gateway would be located in the free world (if there still is such a thing).

On your local end you would have a proxy that your browser connects to. That proxy encrypts traffic and pipes it back and forth between a gateway or gateways in the free world. In fact, the more gateways the better.

Perhaps the next anarchy protocol needs to support ‘streams’ where every packet of the stream can come from a different IP address. Think like a TCP stream, but each packet of the stream might come from a different TOR exit point. At the receiving end the ‘anarchy protocol’ support (think the TCP reassembly of packets into a stream) would reassemble packets from diverse IP addresses into the stream from which it started at the other end. This would not only allow encryption, but would significantly hinder traffic analysis. When sending, every packet of an outgoing stream would take a different route and might even go to a different TOR entry point.

Censorship and Spying are damage which will be routed around.

Anonymous Coward says:

yes it is dangerous and it is ridiculous but the way sucker mouth works is to to trawl up all the customers info before the feds do. that can then be sold off to the various companies that want to advertise or to keep hammering people with mail and calls! there is absolutely no way he is gonna do anything unless it makes him money!

lfroen (profile) says:

But isn't it Facebook's own business

Unless I’m missing something, this is Facebook’s own money. Maybe this idea is bad/wrong/stupid. But dangerous? – give me a break. IIRC nobody forces people to use it, right?
Like it – use it. Don’t like – don’t use.

To the point – Facebook’s argument is “this is better than nothing”. I fail to see counter-argument here. Does Mike think that in fact, this is worst than nothing? Why? Because Facebook may profit?

All this “abuse their power” BS is funny. Last time I checked, Facebook is just a website. It’s not “Umbrella Corp.”, you know. They don’t have private army or black helicopters.
It’s just a website. Get real.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: But isn't it Facebook's own business

“Unless I’m missing something, this is Facebook’s own money. Maybe this idea is bad/wrong/stupid. But dangerous?”

It’s bad for the internet because it harms the effort to achieve net neutrality in a particularly pernicious way. It’s also deceptive because it claims to be providing internet access when really it’s just providing access to a limited set of websites. This is teaching the target audience all the wrong things and makes some of the worst abuses of big internet companies (like Facebook) seem normal and acceptable.

“Facebook’s argument is “this is better than nothing”. I fail to see counter-argument here.”

The counter-argument is simple: that’s a false dichotomy. The choice isn’t between Facebook’s approach or nothing.

“Last time I checked, Facebook is just a website.”

You should check again. Facebook is a LOT more than just a website.

lfroen (profile) says:

Re: Re: But isn't it Facebook's own business

> The counter-argument is simple: that’s a false dichotomy. The choice isn’t between Facebook’s approach or nothing.
Facebook is private enterprise. That’s up to them what kind of choice to present to their users.

>> You should check again. Facebook is a LOT more than just a website.
You need a reality check. It IS a website. Oh, you probably mean “it collaborate with another websites to collect ” – … and it is still a website. All Facebook can do is to show me this or another ad. Everything else is your fantasies.

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