Tim Berners-Lee: 'Just Say No' To Facebook's Plan To Bastardize The Internet

from the this-is-your-brain-on-AOL dept

For much of the year, Facebook has been at the center of a global net neutrality controversy regarding its Internet.org initiative. Internet.org provides developing nations free, limited access to certain services, provided they’re Facebook approved and not encrypted. Facebook is hungry to get in at the ground floor of an absolute explosion in developing nation ad revenue, but net neutrality critics have worried that giving so much control to one company sets a horrible precedent. It would, they argue, be far more helpful to simply deliver a subsidized version of the real Internet, encrypted warts and all.

Concerns about a single company creating an easily-tapped, AOL-esque version of the Internet aren’t particularly outlandish and, if you’ve studied history, are quite justified. Yet Facebook’s response to these concerns so far has been to claim critics are “extremists” who are hurting the poor with all of their pesky questions. And indeed, even here in Techdirt’s comment section, I’ll often see arguments that go something like this:

Why, oh why must you hate the poor? Isn’t a limited version of the Internet better than no Internet at all?

The problem is that’s a false, bullshit choice. Facebook isn’t operating in a vacuum; countless companies and individuals are working hard to bring the full Internet to the poorer corners of the developing world, whether its Google’s deployment of free Wi-Fi in India, or Microsoft’s experiments with white space broadband. The world is simply discussing the best approach. Suggesting that the health of these nations might be better off with solutions that provide access to the full, uncensored Internet isn’t depriving the poor of anything; it’s just a conversation that requires thinking beyond the end of your nose.

And it’s a little something Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the very thing Facebook’s been trying to bastardize, has been thinking a little about. When recently asked to comment on the recent Facebook fracas, Berners-Lee channeled Nancy Reagan and argued that it’s best to just say no:

“In the particular case of somebody who?s offering ? something which is branded internet, it?s not internet, then you just say no. No it isn?t free, no it isn?t in the public domain, there are other ways of reducing the price of internet connectivity and giving something ? [Only] giving people data connectivity to part of the network deliberately, I think is a step backwards.”

Why must you hate the poor so, Tim Berners-Lee? Why? Isn’t lemonade with a little bit of dead otter in it better than no lemonade at all? Etc.

But as Facebook continues to try and defend its gated community world plan, company boss Mark Zuckerburg just keeps on pretending he can’t see the potential pitfalls of his dangerously centralized vision. Last week, Business Insider breathlessly declared that Zuckerburg “nailed” his latest defense of Internet.org at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit. How was said nailing accomplished? With an adorable little story about apples:

“If you want to sell apples and sell them to white men for a dollar and black women for $2, that is wrong and is rightfully banned,” he said. “And net neutrality is kind of like that. If an operator wants to advantage their own video program and not Netflix, for example, that is bad. It?s good that regulation protects against that. But if the person selling apples wants to donate some to a food bank for free, there?s never a law against that. It?s really hard to see how what we?re doing is hurting anyone.”

Is it really that hard, Mark? Nobody cares if you give away apples. Give away actual apples all you want. But as Mozilla and many others have complained, Facebook isn’t giving away apples (the Internet). It’s giving away what is, to follow this stupid metaphor further down nitwit lane, parts of sour-tasting, genetically-modified apples stamped with a giant Facebook logo. Not only that, accepting these not-really apples comes with plenty of apple-distribution strings: not only more power for Facebook, but more, uh, apple-watching power for your local government.

Ok, so that’s still stupid and overly complicated. Point being, if you really want to help, just give away some fucking apples. And while you’re at it, stop trying to dress up your attempts to corner the world’s apple…err…advertising market as selfless altruism. The thing is, Facebook is fairly sure most people won’t be smart enough to see the company’s real intentions here, and judging from many peoples’ response, the company is quite right. Indeed, Zuckerburg proceeds to argue that Facebook’s shitty version of the Internet is going to actually be great, because it will wind up with more people using the real Internet:

“If you ask these people, who didn?t grow up with a computer and have never used the internet, do you want to buy a data plan, their answer is going to be ?Why?? They actually have enough money to afford it, but they?re not sure why they would want it,” Zuckerberg says. “So, the answer to that requires a business model innovation, which is making the internet something where you can use some basic services that don?t consume a lot of bandwidth for free. Within a month, more than half of the people who get access to those services realize why the internet is valuable and become paying customers.”

Except forcing a new bastardized version of AOL down the throat of the developing world isn’t innovation, it’s regression. Especially for nations that live under tyrannical rule and desperately need not only access to a full, non-corporate sanctioned internet, but one that supports encryption and websites critical of government and Facebook. But Zuckerburg knows that once Facebook has developing nations hooked on its free, bastardized version of the Internet, most poor people will likely stick with it, not understanding why they need to pay for broader access. As a result, Facebook will have locked themselves into a long-term contract to be the all-powerful “not-quite Internet” nanny for decades to come.

So as Mr. Berners-Lee suggests: see the bigger picture here and just say no, kids. Just say no.

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Companies: facebook, internet.org

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Comments on “Tim Berners-Lee: 'Just Say No' To Facebook's Plan To Bastardize The Internet”

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Anonymous Coward says:

So you're saying the Google and Microsoft versions are purest altruism, not at all similar?

It’s the last tenth of a percent that makes all the difference in Techdirt’s weird favoritism attempting to separate preferred corporations from the rest. — In absolute terms, corporations are ALL the same: evil. Like wasps, only tiny details vary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So you're saying the Google and Microsoft versions are purest altruism, not at all similar?

The fact that they were forced to give up on part of their shady plans, does not excuse the fact that they tried to implement them to begin with.

They know they can still mine plenty of data on the users of their service even while providing “real” internet access, so Google sure as hell isn’t being altruistic here anyway. They’re just as bad as Facebook at the end of the day.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So you're saying the Google and Microsoft versions are purest altruism, not at all similar?

As I read it, the whole point of those examples was to highlight the fact that “Facebook or nothing” is a false dichotomy and there’s a bigger conversation to be had about the best model for getting broadband to the developing world – not to claim that Google and Microsoft are necessarily altruistic or correct in their approach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: So you're saying the Google and Microsoft versions are purest altruism, not at all similar?

They know they can still mine plenty of data on the users of their service even while providing “real” internet access, so Google sure as hell isn’t being altruistic here anyway. They’re just as bad as Facebook at the end of the day.

To the first sentence: well, yeah.
To the second: um, no.

Google is offering to help Granny across the street because they know this will generate good will, and get her to the side of the street where she can see their advertisements.

Facebook is offering to help Granny across the street, but is in fact helping her directly into their own Facebook-owned shopping mall, where they will escort her around, and finally escort her home when she’s done for the day, after which they’ll get a full report on her activities from her guide.

I hope you can see the difference here. Similar benefits to the companies, vastly different benefits to Granny.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

I’ve said a few times on here before:

Google: Don’t be evil.
Facebook: Don’t even bother pretending we’re not evil.

Looks like I was wrong, at least partially. Looks like we’ve finally found one case in which Facebook wants to pretend as hard as possible that the evil thing they’re doing is not evil. That really ought to underscore to everyone just how evil this plan is!

Anonymous Coward says:

Always remember...

…that Mark Zuckerberg is a sociopathic monster. It’s much easier to understand his position and his goals with that firmly in mind, and it’s effectively impossible to understand those without it.

This isn’t someone who wants to “bring the Internet to the poor”; this is someone who wants to enrich himself and is willing to do anything and to say anything in order to do so. His pathological greed and his raw hatred for the rest of humanity drive him: he couldn’t stop even if he wanted to. So of course he will twist language and lie in whatever way seems necessary to justify this exercise.

maj155 (profile) says:

Re: Apple Analogy

It would be more like giving them one of those plastic apples from centerpiece bowl.

What makes the internet so innovative and fun and revolutionary is its openness–without that openness, it’s not really the internet at all. “Free” basics is a faux internet, designed to hook users of Facebook for future ad delivery, rather than let an upstart Indian social networking platform take hold.

Not only is Zuckerberg being disingenuous regarding his intentions, he’s actively suppressing the lower class by enforcing India’s caste system.

Zonker says:

Why would anyone go through the additional expense of filtering the internet for the poor when they could simply provide it unfiltered for less? Censors and filters cost money and don’t just occur naturally.

This is like deliberately pre-chewing all but the cores out of a bushel of apples before giving that bushel to the food bank for free and claiming that makes you a great philanthropist since it’s “better than nothing”. Meanwhile there are real philanthropists in line ready and willing to donate bushels of fresh, unchewed apples just waiting for their turn.

Mark Zuckerburg really is a sociopathic asshole.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Why would anyone go through the additional expense of filtering the internet for the poor when they could simply provide it unfiltered for less?

For control. If Facebook sets up the walled (and unencrypted, very important) garden they get to see and control everything that goes in and out of it. Providing open internet access would not give them that control.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Those companies are on track to have full control of which version of history ends up in any kind of “book” anyway… so it won’t really matter.

This is what happens when you give a few gigantic corporations full control of the worlds communication infrastructure, media, etc.

Worried about it? Have fun organizing a protest via your Google+ or Facebook group! They promise to respect your group’s privacy! Pinky swear.

Whatever (profile) says:

I think there are some interesting contrasts at play here.

On one side, we have claims of a walled garden, of a restricted and small internet. As Mike says “there’s a bigger conversation to be had about the best model for getting broadband to the developing world “.

Yet, I am struck by this very simple problem: There is effectively NO internet at all in many of these places, and a bigger conversation is just that, a conversation. Facebook and Zuckerberg may be controlling and self-fulfilling in their actions, but they are in fact taking actions.

Talk is cheap – action leads to results. You may not like the results, but dismissing the “no internet, Facebook internet” as a “false dichotomy” is to miss the point entirely.

Zuckerberg is trying to do what nobody else has actually moved to do in the 30 plus years that internet connectivity has been around, bringing it to places where it’s not easily available. We can talk in circles and create PACs and think tanks and high brow discuss all the possible ways we can do it – he’s going to do it.

Once you get done discussing, you can set up something better and prove him wrong. But for the forseeable future, the question is “Facebook soon, or whatever we chat about some time in the indefinite future”. It’s the choice of a shitty meal now, or starving until someone figures out how to build a high end buffet as a profitable business model. I don’t know about you, given the choices, I’ll eat the shitty meal while you figure the rest out, no need to starve.

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