Facebook Hopes Renaming Internet.org App Will Shut Net Neutrality Critics Up

from the it's-only-bad-when-other-people-do-it dept

Facebook is trying its best to defuse worries that the company is trying to impose a bizarre, walled-garden vision of the Internet upon the developing world. As we’ve been discussing, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative has been under fire of late in India, where the government has been trying to not only define net neutrality, but craft useful rules. Early policy guidelines have declared Internet.org to be little more than glorified collusion, since while it does offer limited access to some free services, it involves Facebook determining which services users will be able to access (and encrypted content wasn’t on the Facebook approval list).

Initially, Facebook’s response to these concerns was tone deafness. Mark Zuckerberg proclaimed that net neutrality supporters worried about Facebook’s plans were extremists who were hurting the poor. But in more recent weeks Facebook has been softening its stance, allowing a broader range of content on board the free service, and also renaming the Internet.org app in the hopes of blunting criticism:

“Today the company said it will change the name of its Internet.org app and mobile website, now available to mobile phone users in 18 countries, to Free Basics by Facebook.

The change is intended to better distinguish the app and website from Internet.org, the larger initiative that spawned it and is incubating many technologies and business models to help get the web to new users faster.”

And by “better distinguish,” we mean help Facebook distance the app from criticism that the company is setting itself up as the gatekeeper to content in the developing world. To be fair, renaming it “free basics” and eliminating the “Internet.org” name does help clarify what Facebook’s actually offering. And the company does appear to be opening the door to more content partners, and is working to ensure encrypted services will work “wherever possible.” Still, many people still don’t like the precedent set by letting Facebook be the gatekeeper for what’s considered acceptable content, and argue that if Facebook really wanted to help the poor, it would offer subsidized real Internet access.

Other than changing the name and opening the Facebook gates slightly wider, the company is showing no sign that it plans to back off the core idea behind the Internet.org initiative. It also shows no sign that it actually understands why some critics are troubled by Facebook’s vision. Former FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin (a huge friend to US telcos during his tenure) is now Facebook’s vice-president for mobile and global access policy (read: global lobbyist), and recently declared that Facebook couldn’t be a bigger friend to net neutrality:

“When users purchase internet access, they should be able to go where they want to, and that concept of net neutrality rules in context of operators who originally wanted to sell different tiers of speeds to consumers so that certain services can be accessed on a faster basis….He said that Facebook supports the concept of net neutrality and its program internet.org is to enable people to realize the importance of internet by providing access to basic web service free of data cost.”

In short, that’s a former FCC boss with no credibility on the subject basically implying that Facebook couldn’t possibly be violating net neutrality, since that’s something only a telecom operator can do. Facebook still apparently believes that nobody is bright enough to see past its shiny veneer of altruism to realize that the company is trying to corner developing nation advertising and content markets for the next thirty years. Hopefully more intelligent and nuanced thinking prevails, and those purportedly so desperate to help the poor will ultimately decide to do so by offering dirt-cheap Internet access, not a bastardized, AOL-esque vision of the Internet buried under layers of cheap public relations paint.

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Companies: facebook, internet.org

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Comments on “Facebook Hopes Renaming Internet.org App Will Shut Net Neutrality Critics Up”

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32 Comments
I_see_it_both_ways says:

can you really complain about free?

The argument I see all the time is, Facebook is giving free access, and something free but limited is better than unrestricted nothing. And I have a hard time refuting that. Sure they’re trying to corner a market, but it’s still coming out of their pockets. Bandwidth does cost money, and limited what can be accessed (like no high res images) does keep their bill lower. Add to that they’re also turning about on some senseless restrictions like the encryption thing. If the question is, walled garden or no garden, which do you say is better?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: can you really complain about free?

“If the question is, walled garden or no garden, which do you say is better?”

But that’s not the question. It’s just a false dichotomy. One of the real problems (and not the largest one) is that buying into the walled garden automatically kills other, better ways of getting internet service to these areas.

jlaprise (profile) says:

You’re way off on this one Karl. Facebook certainly has commercial interests but I don’t see anyone else with similar resources extending access to the unconnected billions. Also realise that this is essentially a walled garden within a state-imposed walled garden. The name confusion issue that prompted the change is a red herring. Anyone who sees internet.org side by side with regular Internet will see the difference. I expect it to be a regular hacking target.

The net neutrality comment is completely non-contextual. Net neutrality means different things globally things globally and certainly in this case. The US & Indian telecommunications regulatory environment are very different.

Yes, it’s a commercial service so Facebook gets to make decisions about it. Get over it.From the many discussions I’ve seen and participated in on this policy issue, this is a prime example of #firstworldproblems. Easy enough to complain about when you already have access.

Anonymous Coward says:

Always keep in mind

that Mark Zuckerberg is not only a filthy spammer, but a sociopathic monster. NOTHING he says can be trusted. NOTHING he does is for good of numanity.

So make sure to read these pronouncements from Facebook with that firmly in mind. Don’t be fooled by their rhetoric and posturing: this is all about satiating Zuckerberg’s lust for money and power, and that’s ALL it’s about.

Teamchaos (profile) says:

Those poor folks in other countries are better off without any Internet than a limited version provided free by Facebook.

Let ’em eat cake! Net Neutrality or nothing at all!

If you agree with all of that, you’ve probably never visited a 3rd world country. You’ve had everything given to you and have no idea what it’s like to have nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

"firstworldproblem"

I don’t mean to be blunt to Jlaprise, Teamchaos, or anyone else who believes this is a problem of having no idea what it’s like to have nothing or a first world problem. However this is really an anti-competition problem. Nearly three quarters of the people in these countries think Facebook is the internet. How can they seek and fight for the real internet and all the publishing capabilities and journalism and other thing that it as to offer, if they believe they all ready have it?

jlaprise (profile) says:

Re: "firstworldproblem"

Because all it takes is the first comparative exposure for new users to recognize the difference. The recognition problem is a temporary situation.

As for anti-competition, well, I’m sure that FB’s partners competitors are even now looking for ways to compete in new ways. I’d call it a spur to innovation. It’s too soon to call it anti-competitive.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Amazing how other market competitors are seeking to roll out competing services, isn’t it? It will be interesting to see how they compare and how Facebook reacts.

Yes Karl, because we have a very different regulatory environment that comes in part from not having a state owned PTT in our history as well as a different idea of what constitutes collusion. Zero rating services would not work in the US because Internet is so common and abject poverty is relatively more unusual. The closest we get is airport wi-fi with pop-up ads.

No not at all. I’m in favor of getting people access. Period. Facebook is an imperfect solution and as you point out, one of many. But to criticize a for profit company for being, well, commercial is irrational.

I’m all for granting global ubiquitous broadband yesterday (and devices to access it) but that doesn’t grow on trees.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Zero rating services would not work in the US because Internet is so common and abject poverty is relatively more unusual.

It seems to be well received in the mobile internet market.

http://www.techpolicydaily.com/internet/fccs-war-on-zero-rating/

I’m in favor of getting people access. Period.

You’re in favor of access to something, no matter the drawbacks?

But to criticize a for profit company for being, well, commercial is irrational.

If you believe that is the criticism, then you have completely misunderstood the article.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, but zero rating in the US is of a whole different character. It targets existing Internet users whereas in India it’s targeting users who don’t have Internet access because they can’t afford it.

Drawbacks? I’ve heard a lot of FUD but not very much in concrete harms. The only exception to that being the weak security but the Indian government and it’s policies on encryption are more to blame than Facebook.

Perhaps. I’ve been talking about this subject since it first came up and contribute regularly in policy discussions. The final paragraph is more of an angry rant than anything else.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Drawbacks? I’ve heard a lot of FUD but not very much in concrete harms.

By “FUD” do you mean descriptions of something that could happen but hasn’t yet? Is it only meaningful to you if it’s a harm that’s already taken place, so we can’t criticize something until after it’s already a disaster?

Did you see this story?

https://www.techdirt.com/blog/netneutrality/articles/20150519/07321731049/facebooks-plan-to-be-compuserve-developing-nations-faces-mounting-worldwide-criticism.shtml

jlaprise (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

And yet the disaster is only a hypothetical. I’m on board with the security issues but given the Indian government’s views on encryption, Facebook’s policies are more likely in place to political resistance than anything else. I’m not saying this is good for users but the blame properly belongs with the Indian government.

Yes I did.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Disagree about the disaster. For reference comparison, so far in the history of the Internet, what would constitute disaster?

As it stands, Facebook’s commitment to privacy and security for users is nonexistent. The policy of the Indian government is largely to blame for this. I’m not concerned with vendor lock-in because I trust users to learn and quickly the difference between full and walled garden Internet. I also am confident that FB’s internet.org/freebasics.com will be hacked by users to enable broader access.

I am more concerned by unconnected users continuing lack of access than their privacy and security. Considering the lives that many of these people lead, their offline lives have considerably more risks to security and far greater threats to privacy than anything Facebook could present:

How concerned are people about child online protection if children are routinely trafficked, abused, impressed into the military? It’s a question of perspective.

Moonkey says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Here’s a little idea for you.

Does it sound good that a for-profit company does things in the name of the people, especially very large companies? You know, like pharmaceutical companies, internet service providers, banks, social media.

Does it usually turn out good? No. It really doesn’t.

While access is good, your terms that some access is better than no access is ridiculous because you stand yourself on the right that we should let for-profit companies make the decisions, especially those of Mark Zuckerberg.

He had a choice, go all the way and open access to the entirety of the internet, enduring anything that would get in his way, or go along with his business model.

I still think what he’s doing now is better than what he did at first though, good on him for pushing for more access.

Also, we need reminders that people can live without the internet. I mean, we’ve been doing it before the dawn of man, living to the age of 90-100. Get things done right or not at all.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Certainly people can live without the Internet. However, it’s a lot more expensive and that expense is amplified to those living in poverty. The difference between selling your harvest for a few more rupees because you know the comparative prices in neighboring villages is huge.

I’m not saying that it’s a great solution or even good. I am saying that in the world of extending the Internet to the next billion users who largely live in poverty, it’s one of the most significant games in town. I’m also saying that if it gives users an economic leg up, it’s likely they will migrate to regular Internet service.

Moonkey says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That’s when we have to take into account the problems in India as it is, Poverty and disease. I do agree that the internet is extremely useful in remedying financial problems though, and helps with general knowledge of everything. You can sell your services, learn a few things, get a job, and learn about medical treatments, etc.

I really hope you’re right though, while it’s not so good in the long run, it really does support a lot of people. Let’s hope India’s government goes the final stretch and gets the internet out there for the rest.

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