After Zero Rating Backlash, Facebook Returns With New, Somewhat Murky 'Express WiFi' Initiative

from the with-friends-like-these dept

You might recall that earlier this year there was a massive backlash against Facebook for its often clumsy attempts to try and dominate emerging developing nation ad markets through what many saw as bogus altruism. The entire fracas bubbled over in India, where regulators banned Facebook's attempt to create a sort of zero-rated, net neutrality-violating walled garden of Facebook-curated content under the pretense of helping the nation's farmers. Facebook didn't help itself by trying to drum up fake support for its initiatives while labeling those worried about the plan as extremists.

Under the original idea, low-income families got access to a limited crop of Facebook-approved content; sort of a glorified AOL for poor people. However, net neutrality advocates and critics like Mozilla were (justly) concerned with this giving Facebook too much power over content, so they consistently argued that if Facebook was so desperately interested in helping the poor -- the company and its initiative should focus on providing actual broadband connectivity.

Fast forward to this week, and Facebook appears to have dusted off its trousers and is preparing to try again. The company's website this week announced that it would be bringing something called "Express WiFi" to India. The website is almost hysterically short on details, only offering explanations like this:
"With Express Wifi, we’re working with carriers, internet service providers, and local entrepreneurs to help expand connectivity to underserved locations around the world. We’re currently live in India, and are expanding to other regions soon."
Facebook not only isn't really explaining what Express WiFi is, they're not saying how much it costs, where it's available, or giving even the slightest technical explanation of how the system and software works. It could actually be a good thing. Or it might be terrible. No one can actually say based on the little info provided. The end result has been oodles of articles with promotional photos like this one highlighting Facebook's incredible altruism and showcasing Zuck as a man of the people. But not a single one could be bothered to explain how this new initiative differs from Facebook's last, arguably bungled Free Basics effort.

It took a little digging, but the company provided this still relatively ambiguous statement on Express WiFi:
Currently we are working with ISP and operator partners to test Express Wi-Fi with public Wi-Fi deployments in multiple pilot sites. This solution empowers ISPs, operators, and local entrepreneur retailers to offer quality internet access to their village, town or region.

  • Express Wi-Fi customers can purchase fast, reliable and affordable data packs via digital vouchers to access the Internet on the Express Wi-Fi network.
  • We focus on building a sustainable economic model for all stakeholders involved, so that local retailer entrepreneurs, ISPs, operators, and Facebook can continue to invest in and operate lasting connectivity.
  • We believe a sustainable economic model is the one which can scale to bring all of India online.
  • That's still kind of murky, and Facebook's refusal to explain precisely how this system will work (and just what its software at the heart of the initiative does, collects or delivers) raises a few warning flags, since you'd think Facebook would want to clearly ease the minds of net neutrality activists in India. Still, at least on the surface, it appears that Facebook may have actually listened to its critics that pointed out the best way to bring the internet to the poor -- is to actually bring the internet to the poor. Quite a novel idea.
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    Filed Under: express wifi, internet basics, zero rating
    Companies: facebook

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    1. identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Dec 2016 @ 1:47pm

      Better hurry up and post a Zuckerberg fake charity fluff piece to counteract this one!

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

    2. icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 1 Dec 2016 @ 3:05pm


      Relax. There are ways for Zuckerberg to turn this into something positive without hurting your alt-right sensibilities.

      Think of god-games like Populous, where you have an overhead view and control the population by applying manna in subtle ways. Combine it with FaceBook's Farmville-type games. Add gaming clans / factions / guilds like in Eve Online and other online multi-player games.

      Each guild would adopt a real village, and then compete with other guilds to grow their village and its power and influence faster.

      Individual in-app purchases may buy a single textbook or water filter or malaria shot, gaining more points for the player. Or an in-app charge may go towards the guild's group purchase of a one-room school, generator, digging a well, etc. If a guild gains enough members, they might attract corporate sponsors. Soon a guild would be buying clinics and cell phone towers. FaceBook would retain control of internet infrastructure. Connect your village to a power grid, and FaceBook would put an XBox One with a Kinect camera in every home for a more Sims Online style experience.

      FaceBook would get a small cut of each transaction, and would supply overhead drone or satellite views and "character bios" of the NSNPCs (Not So Non Player Characters.) Real life random events would provide, er, random events. Instead of the usual MMORPG villagers asking you to go kill the trolls that have been attacking them, FaceBook would serve up real-life tragedies, emergencies, homes and dreams for your guild to tackle. With FaceBook's all-powerful data collection you could even crowd-source crime solving, Boston bombing and illegal voting style.

      It would certainly put a spotlight on the sort of corruption that holds back many 3rd world countries. A corrupt local official pocketing aid isn't news, so little is done. But when 5000 1st-world players see their investment pocketed by a corrupt 3rd world local official - THEY will be heard. It'll be posted to Techdirt and a hundred blogs, and mainstream media may pick it up. FaceBook will have to flex some muscle to keep its games honest, probably using all that collected data to put pressure on the government.

      If successful the technology used and lessons learned would go into the next generation game, set in first world countries. The 1% would use the 99% for their own god game. Just like Trump and his new cabinet!

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

    3. icon
      That One Guy (profile), 1 Dec 2016 @ 5:00pm

      'Trust me', never a good sign

      While it's possible that the secrecy is because they're still working out the exact details and therefore don't have them available to share, I think I'm going to assume that the reason that they're keeping things hush-hush isn't because the program is just so awesome that they don't think that people would be able to handle it, but rather that they learned their lesson from the last time they got slapped down and are trying to be a little sneakier this time around.

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

    4. identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Dec 2016 @ 4:28am

      Re: 'Trust me', never a good sign

      Hundreds of independent and totally-not-Facebook-owned companies all across India, each totally independently deciding to offer free access to the same censored list of Internet sites Facebook was going to offer with their previous scam.

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

    5. icon
      programvb (profile), 12 Mar 2017 @ 7:02am

      I think the issue boils down to one idea: that too many people believe what they see online because it's "in print". For hundreds of years, people would read the newspaper and magazines and assume that every story had been editted and fact-checked to tell the truth. Now comes the Internet with tons of opinion pieces, propaganda, and just plain wrong stories. Yet because people have the idea that "if it's in print, it must be true", they'll believe anything they read.

      Just look through your own Facebook newsfeed to see how many people recently shared the old "post this message to stop Facebook from taking your content"... which was never true and which was debunked in 2012! Why do people still believe it? Why can't they spend 10 seconds on Snopes to see that it's completely false?

      Then combine this with the media outlets who make money from clicks and advertising, and who don't really care about fact-checking: if it's wrong, they can later add a link to a corrected version of the article. This creates people like Trump who get ahead by shouting the craziest, most offensive things just to get attention.

      Then there's the idea that media outlets have to report on every story out of "fairness", though it's usually just to ride the coat-tails of another network to get clicks and ratings:
      Fox News: Does this video show Hillary eating puppies? We think it does. (An obvious lie, but it gets attention.)
      CNN: Fox News reports that Hillary was caught eating puppies. We talk with experts about what this means for her campaign. (By "analyzing" the obvious false story, they legitimize it while also getting attention.)
      Your local news channel: How will Hillary's puppygate scandal affect the nation? Our report at 11:00.

      After all this, can anyone *not* believe that Hillary was eating puppies? 17/01/facebook-delete.html
      http://www.progra ook-messenger.html

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

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