Mozilla: If Facebook Really Wants To Help Developing Nations, It Should Ignore Zero Rating And Fund Real Internet Access

from the get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dept

Facebook’s been taking a lot of heat lately for failing to understand (or pretending to fail to understand) how its Internet.org initiative spells trouble for net neutrality. As noted previously, Facebook’s vision has been to deploy a “free” walled-garden service like AOL to developing nations. Critics have been dropping out of Internet.org, stating they don’t like Facebook picking which companies get included in the walled garden. Things have gotten particularly heated in India, where neutrality advocates have made it very clear they think Facebook’s vision hurts the open Internet long term.

Zuckerberg’s response so far? You’re hurting the poor if you don’t like the way we’re doing things, because a walled garden is better than no Internet at all. Of course that’s a false choice: Facebook could offer subsidized access to the real Internet, it just wouldn’t get pole position in delivering ads to billions of new users in dozens of developing nations. It’s a mammoth advertising play dressed up as utterly-selfless altruism, with a dash of indignant at suggestions there’s a better way.

Mozilla recently decided to jump into the conversation with a series of blog posts offering a much more intelligent, nuanced take on the problem with zero rated apps. In one post, Mozilla notes how if you let Facebook create a new definition of the Internet today, you’re setting the stage for notable problems down the road:

“We understand the temptation to say ?some content is better than no content,? choosing a lesser degree of inclusion over openness and equality of opportunity. But it shouldn?t be a binary choice; technology and innovation can create a better way, even though these new models may take some time to develop. Furthermore, choosing limited inclusion today, even though it offers short-term benefits, poses significant risk to the emergence of an open, competitive platform that will ultimately stifle inclusion and economic development.”

That mirrors concerns by folks like Stanford Professor Susan Crawford, who have lambasted such models for “entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination.” Mozilla notes there’s plenty of ways to help fund Internet access to developing nations that doesn’t involve building walls and cherry picking program participants. For example the company has struck a partnership with Orange to provide $40 Firefox OS smartphones with 6 free months of voice, text, and up to 500 MB per month of data. Another effort offers a small allotment of free data for watching an ad.

In short, there are options that don’t turn the Internet into a glorified version of CompuServe. But rushing toward walled gardens again isn’t just about today, it’s about what these ideas mutate into over the longer haul. Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker took this idea further in a second blog post:

“Selective zero-rating is unquestionably bad for the long term opportunities and inclusion for the people it is designed to serve. It pre-selects what?s available, directing people to where others want them to go. It is bad for economic inclusion. It is bad for the ability of new entrepreneurs to grow onto the global scale. It is bad for the long term health of the Internet. Zero-rating as practiced today is ?selective zero-rating for a few apps and websites; exclusion for the rest of the Internet.”

The correct answer is that all data is transmitted at the same price, whether that price is “zero” or anything else. This way, consumers pick the content they choose to access based on the quality of that content, not the financial power and business partnerships of the provider. This way, new entrepreneurs can still reach any and all users on the Internet, even if they are a few people working in a co-working space with no ability to subsidize data charges.”

In other words, if Facebook really wants to help the poor, it can do so by using Internet.org to fund access to the “real Internet,” not some bastardized version of the Internet that lets Facebook and select ISP partners play god. The conversation in India mirrors the conversation we’ve been having about systems like AT&T’s Sponsored Data here in the States; opposition to zero rating is simply about getting massive gatekeepers out of the way and ensuring equal access to the purest version of the ‘Net possible.

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Companies: facebook, mozilla

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Comments on “Mozilla: If Facebook Really Wants To Help Developing Nations, It Should Ignore Zero Rating And Fund Real Internet Access”

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20 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook

Only wants to help them onto the facebook service, where he can sell their data and privacy while acting like an angel.

If you think Fuckerberg is any kind of a philanthropist then then let me assure you, he has successfully purchased your opinion with public monetary.

Rich people buy public opinion because there are a lot of suckers for sale. It is clear he is a dirt bag and it just so happens he is not alone in his arena.

jlaprise (profile) says:

I side with FB on this one and think Mozilla is wrong on this. It shouldn’t create a binary choice but it does. No one else is providing access to the developing world on this scale and some access is better than no access. We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yes, FB is a company and it’s goal is to create customers. Period. They’ve just trying to do both.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The problem with approach is that it creates the Facebook tribe, which will be joined by other tribes. This then becomes another division in society, especially if it is difficult to impossible for the different tribes to speak to each other. This suites those in government and their supporter, as it helps prevent society organizing against them.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No it doesn’t create a binary choice, as clearly seen by Mozilla’s partnership which would provide access to the real internet (as described). If it wanted to be altruistic and help poor people onto the internet, it could. What Facebook is doing is trying to become the one and only ad provider to poor people. Period. It has no altruistic goals. Claiming Facebook’s business move is an altruistic one is political spin, nothing more. It might help in the short term. But if we allow Facebook to become entrenched as the sole provider for the poor, we risk a future no one is going to provide subsidized access for the poor except in the Facebook model, which means allowing big corporations to pick what India sees. Meaning smaller start-ups which might be of benefit to the poor might never be seen, because they aren’t allowed into the walled garden. We have seen this behavior before from walled gardens (Apple), and there is no reason to believe Facebook will be any better as a gatekeeper.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…the Facebook model, which means allowing big corporations to pick what (you) see…

That should be what FACEBOOK picks what you see.

Checked it out lately? “Suggested posts”, posts not organized by time posted, and posts that don’t show up for over 12 hours! (I missed out on a 10 dollar gift card because it required a reply within 10 hours of the post!)

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Oh certainly there are concerns about facebook’s algorithms on Facebook. But the nuances of what we want from a social media site are not what is being discussed. I was referring to the general future where other companies started offering “internet” for the poor on the Facebook model, which means it might be a different company choosing what you see. Hence my wording.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And you would be OK with Google or Microsoft doing the same thing?

Which would you choose if those were your 3 options, and they couldn’t interact with each other?

It’s a bit like only being able to call other people with the same phone carrier as yours – except you’re limited not just to communications with a single source but information availability through a single source as well. It’s a terrible and greedy option for poor and developing countries.

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