Is A Free, Ad-Laden, No-Privacy, Walled-Off Version Of The Internet Better Than No Internet At All?

from the welcome-to-the-not-quite-Internet dept

Overseas there has been a growing push to draw in more Facebook and Google users by making it so select Facebook or Google content doesn't count against your mobile data plan. From the Philippines to Kenya, you can see these efforts exemplified by services like Facebook Zero and Google Free Zone. Facebook Zero, for example, allows you to browse Facebook almost as normal, though you'll be charged normal data rates if you try to download something like photos and video, or in some cases if you travel to any other website.

Now, news has emerged that Facebook is spending $60 million to acquire drone-manufacturer Titan Aerospace. The idea is that Facebook could use these drones to provide fly-over connectivity for lower income nations. While it makes for good headlines whether that ever actually happens is pretty dubious, given there's a long history of mixed results when it comes to providing broadband by aircraft, whether that's via hot air balloon, Santa sleigh or drone. Really, when it's all said and done, it's an effort to grab a larger chunk of potential ad eyeballs under the pageantry of purported altruism.

Here in the States, we haven't experimented with the idea of free gateway access yet much, though companies like T-Mobile prepaid brand GoSmart have hinted at the idea. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress trade show this week in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that he'd really like to see his expanded free ambitions take off further in additional countries:
"Zuckerberg said that Internet.org, which Facebook and other partners announced last year, is designed to create a reliable program to help "on-ramp" those customers to the Internet by offering a free tier of service, much like 911 on the wired telephone network. "We want to create a similar kind of dial tone to the Internet," Zuckerberg said...Facebook's work with wireless carrier Globe in the Philippines has doubled the number of people there accessing the Internet. He said in that program Globe is making access to Facebook free and then charging for access to other sites. In a separate effort in Paraguay, where Facebook is working with operator Tigo, the number of people using data has jumped 50 percent, and the number of people using it daily jumped 70 percent, by offering free access to Facebook."
Usually, these statements are followed by citing a lot of studies about how improved Internet penetration helps developing nations (studies focused on actual Internet access, not Zuckerberg's definition of it). Critics contest these users aren't really being connected to the actual Internet and all that entails. They're being connected to bizarre new walled-garden universes where privacy doesn't exist, connectivity is fractured, and they themselves are the product. Is this helpful if you step back and take a longer view? Folks like Susan Crawford don't seem to think so:
"For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That's not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business," she says. "That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life."
I honestly find myself quite torn between thinking that any connectivity is better than none (it depends entirely on the implementation of the effort), and the idea that we're establishing a painfully-low baseline of expectation in developing countries in terms of what the Internet is supposed to be. How different is what Facebook is doing from AT&T's sponsored data idea when you strip away a few layers, and if people are introduced to the Internet as a fractured, distorted walled garden at their first encounter with it, what does it evolve into for them down the road?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    S, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 6:34pm

    If it didn't work for AOL, why should it work for Facebook? (And AOL's social network was MUCH better, its content was MUCH better, and it did not spy on users.)

     

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  2.  
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    Grenaid (profile), Mar 7th, 2014 @ 7:31pm

    Anyone remember Juno?

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 7:40pm

    Awesome

    So 25 years later we'll be back to prodigy. Thats. just. fucking. great.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Pixelation, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 8:19pm

    Yipee

    "...is designed to create a reliable program to help "on-ramp" those customers to the Internet..."

    On-ramp, Adjective. Also means to ass-rape.

    The by-product of this is we'll also get to be "on-ramped". Whee!

     

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  5.  
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    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 8:55pm

    The Answer Is “No”

    As I pointed out elsewhere, the Internet is driven by connectivity, not content. We have had walled gardens before, in the pre-Internet age. They were paid, not sponsored, but I think the same principle applies. They were swept aside by the Internet, not because of its superior content, but because it offered far superior connectivity.

    Any new walled garden is doomed to the same fate of extinction. No company, or cartel of companies, can match the billions of dollars of investment in connectivity represented by the entire Internet.

     

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  6.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 7th, 2014 @ 9:18pm

    Re:

    Yes, I agree. If my only means of reaching the internet was through one of these things (or reaching back in time, Juno, AOL, America Online, etc.), then I would do without the internet access.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 7th, 2014 @ 9:23pm

    I've got to wonder, if the Internet had not had its origins as a publicly-funded military and academia research project, and instead been created by for-profit business ventures, that today these "walled gardens" would be the rule rather than the exception.

    Just imagine for a second if your "internet" was exclusive to your hardware device: Apple had its own (proprietary) "internet" and Hewlett Packard had it's own, etc., and a website like Google had to pay rent to Apple to connect to Apple's "internet" exclusively, while Facebook paid its licensing fees to Hewlett Packard to connect to HP's "internet" -- and neither one was accessible from the other network unless the user paid an ATM-like usage fee.

    The Internet might very well have worked out that way -- and I'm actually surprised that it didn't.

     

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  8.  
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    zeiche (profile), Mar 8th, 2014 @ 12:18am

    you young whippersnappers

    Back in the day we PAID to use AOL and a Prodigy. And we liked it.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 1:33am

    no! it isn't!!

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 2:40am

    There is an inherent contradiction in providing free Internet to the poor to serve them adverts, they do not have the disposable income to interest the advertisers. Further doing so is more likely to stir up social unrest by emphasizing the divide between the rich and the poor.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 6:37am

    "Is A Free, Ad-Laden, No-Privacy, Walled-Off Version Of The Internet Better Than No Internet At All?"

    No

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 6:45am

    Re:

    "The Internet might very well have worked out that way"

    Wrong.

    Corporate would not have created anything like the present internet, walled or not. They are not that creative nor forward thinkging. In addition, they are scared shitless of the public being in possession of a mass communication device as their business plans rely upon misinformation, deception, outright lies and manipulation.

     

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  13.  
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    ausoleil (profile), Mar 8th, 2014 @ 6:46am

    "Is A Free, Ad-Laden, No-Privacy, Walled-Off Version Of The Internet"

    Sounds like a description of Internet2 to me.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 6:46am

    Re: you young whippersnappers

    Haha - no one liked AOHell

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 7:23am

    Yeah, that makes a WHOLE lot of sense...

    Build a system targeted almost exclusively at people who don't have financial resources based on selling advertising of services and products to those people that they can't afford anyway. Riiiiiiiiiiigght!. I can see big companies lining up in droves to advertise there.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 7:30am

    In related news...

    Facebook partners with AOL to launch an new trial install disc carpet bombing campaign using drones for these third world markets.

     

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  17.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 8th, 2014 @ 9:49am

    Re: Re:

    This. They would have created an "information service," not anything like the internet. This is demonstrable -- that's what they were creating before the internet was opened to the public.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 11:52am

    I thought Google was the internet.

    /sarcasm

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    What we call "The Internet" is in its essence just a bunch of networked computers -- that's it. It's not something unique or exceptional in any way, as computer networks have existed for decades previously. The big difference though, was that long ago, everything was proprietary and controlled by a single company. So IBM computers could only network with other IBMs, and the same with Wang and Digital. So each computer brand had its own walled-garden. The era of open standards didn't arrive until later, and it was mainly due to the influence of universities, not corporations (which naturally favored the concept of customer lock-in).

    And unlike computers today, cellular telephone networks are still mostly proprietary -- you can't (in most cases) switch phone service providers without replacing your hardware.

    But getting back to my original point, I could certainly envision an alternate universe in which the old systems of the mini-computers' proprietary systems and walled-gardens had evolved outward, resulting in several competing (but incompatible) "Internets" -- instead of a single, unified collection of open standards that we collectively know today as "the Internet."

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, Mar 8th, 2014 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re:

    Looks like it deleted the subject line for you, too.

    Site bug!

     

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  21.  
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    Josh (profile), Mar 8th, 2014 @ 3:26pm

    Re:

    At least you don't think that little blue E is the internet. The E stands for Evil.

     

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  22.  
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    lfroen (profile), Mar 8th, 2014 @ 10:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    >> you can't (in most cases) switch phone service providers without replacing your hardware.
    You should be saying "In US ...". In "rest of the world" (please check your map where is it) we can switch SIM card and go to another provider; no hardware replace needed.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    zip, Mar 9th, 2014 @ 4:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I should have specified the USA, a country almost totally unaffected by the anti-monopoly/pro-consumer attitude that has infected the minds of European government policy-makers.

    Though saying "the rest of the world" would not be totally accurate either. The US military occupation authorities pushed for CDMA (rather than GSM) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    While on the subject of Cellular telephones, I can point out another result of the US government's hands-off policy: there have been hundreds of different batteries, chargers and *proprietary* plug-in connections, ostensibly designed to maximize profit by eliminating competition. It's even worse than printer ink. Someone who bought a cheap prepaid CT (which included a battery and charger) would be required to spend several times that price just to replace either the battery or the charger.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Mar 9th, 2014 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    Never saw it. Not my kind of movie.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Mar 9th, 2014 @ 8:17am

    Life existed for thousands of years before the internet. If the internet ceased to exist, life would go on.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Mar 9th, 2014 @ 8:18am

    Re:

    Internet2? As in WhateverHappened2?

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2014 @ 1:56pm

    Re:

    Only thousands?

    Also that rational is somewhat lacking in persuasiveness.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    BernardoVerda (profile), Mar 9th, 2014 @ 11:57pm

    Re:

    I can imagine such a world -- but it wouldn't be the internet.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 10th, 2014 @ 4:18am

    Re:

    In fact, connectivity came before content. The content industry took a whole load of time to discover the Internet as means for making money. And when they did they decided the best thing was to break it. As always.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 10th, 2014 @ 8:40am

    Re: Re:

    Internet 2 is alive and well. It's just not open to the public.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 10th, 2014 @ 11:56am

    So.. are these funded by the US government?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Mar 10th, 2014 @ 3:58pm

    Re: Re:

    Human life is what I meant.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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