Facebook's Plan To Be The Compuserve Of Developing Nations Faces Mounting Worldwide Criticism

from the altruism-incorporated dept

What began as some squabbling over the definition of net neutrality in India has evolved into a global public relations shit show for Facebook. As we've been discussing, India's government has been trying to define net neutrality ahead of the creation of new neutrality rules. Consumers and content companies have been making it very clear they believe Facebook's Internet.org initiative violates net neutrality because it offers free, walled-garden access to only some Facebook approved content partners, instead of giving developing nations access to the entire Internet.

Internet.org partners began dropping out of the initiative, arguing they don't like any model where Facebook gets to decide which content is accessed for free -- and which content remains stuck outside of Internet.org. Facebook so far has responded by trying to claim that if you oppose Internet.org you're the one hurting the poor, because a walled garden is better than no Internet at all. Of course that's a false choice; Facebook could simply provide subsidized access to the entire Internet, but that wouldn't provide them with a coordinated leg-up in the developing nation ad markets of tomorrow.

So far Facebook's defense of Internet.org's zero rating of some content has only made criticism louder. A coalition of sixty-seven different digital activism groups from thirty-one different countries this week penned an open letter to Facebook on Facebook, arguing that Internet.org will actually hurt the poor by cordoning off meaningful parts of the actual Internet. The groups, many of which have been pushing for increased broadband deployment far longer than Facebook has, are quick to point out that Facebook's injection of itself between users and the Internet doesn't just raise net neutrality concerns, but privacy and security issues as well:
The censorship capability of Internet gateways is well established — some governments require ISPs to block access to sites or services. Facebook appears to be putting itself in a position whereby governments could apply pressure to block certain content, or even, if users must log in for access, block individual users. Facebook would find itself mediating the real surveillance and censorship threats to politically active users in restrictive environments. The company should not take on this added responsibility and risk by creating a single centralized checkpoint for the free flow of information.

...We are very concerned about the privacy implications of Internet.org. Facebook’s privacy policy does not provide adequate protections for new Internet users, some of whom may not understand how their data will be used, or may not be able to properly give consent for certain practices. Given the lack of statements to the contrary, it is likely Internet.org collects user data via apps and services. There is a lack of transparency about how that data are used by Internet.org and its telco partners. Internet.org also provides only a handful of applications and services, making it easier for governments and malicious actors to surveil user traffic.
Facebook tried to ease concerns by recently including more content partners, but there's still an absurd number of restrictions. Content can't integrate video, VoIP, Flash, Javascript or Java applets. Internet.org is also blocking any and all encrypted sites at a point in time when encryption is more important than ever, for developed and developing nations alike. The EFF was quick to point this out in a statement of its own issued this week opposing the initiative:
Even if Facebook were able to figure out a way to support HTTPS proxying on feature phones, its position as Internet gatekeepers remains more broadly troublesome. By setting themselves up as gatekeepers for free access to (portions of) the global Internet, Facebook and its partners have issued an open invitation for governments and special interest groups to lobby, cajole or threaten them to withhold particular content from their service. In other words, Internet.org would be much easier to censor than a true global Internet.
Still, so far there's every indication that Facebook either doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, what critics are saying. The company recently posted a new myths versus facts release on the Internet.org site that somehow manages to talk over, under and around most of the points critics have been making. There's also this gem, in which Facebook actually denies that Internet.org has anything to do with making money:
MYTH: Facebook has launched Internet.org to help drive its own growth and revenue opportunities within developing countries.

FACT: There are no ads within the Facebook experience on Internet.org. If revenue were the goal, Facebook would have focused resources on markets where online advertising is already thriving."
This pretense on Facebook's part that Internet.org is solely about altruism is adorable, but it's not clear who, if anyone, actually believes that. To most, it's obvious Facebook wants in at the ground floor in order to dominate the ad markets of tomorrow, and what better way to do that than to position yourself as the walled-garden Compuserve of developing nations. Facebook could nip this entire problem in the bud in two simple steps. One, Facebook needs to stop acting like everyone is too stupid to see its real motives. And two, if Facebook is so very concerned about the poor, it should put its money where its mouth is and shift to a subsidized model that gets Facebook out of the way and provides access to the real Internet, free from obvious interference, censorship, privacy and neutrality concerns.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 12:26pm

    The second step would be costly but the first step is not feasible by now. To steer away of the shit storm they brought upon themselves Facebook would have to admit the initiative is flawed and drop it. It would get bonus points if it went for number 2 but money says it won't happen.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 1:10pm

    If Facebook were not interested in some form of direct or indirect financial gain from this venture, they would have just donated money to another organization pursuing a connectivity goal in underdeveloped countries rather than being so deeply involved in this debacle.

    Heck, I used Netzero back in college for free dialup internet access (back when Netzero was actually free). You had a little ad browser that docked at the top of your web browser. As humans are apt to do, you just developed tunnel vision and ignored the ads, but you still got access to the entire internet. There were no restrictions on particular websites or protocols.

    And if you were clever, you went into the folders on your computer where they stored the ads locally and you just replaced the ad images with blank images.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 1:13pm

    In related news...

    ...spammer Mark Zuckerberg is STILL a greedy sociopath.

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

  • icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 1:36pm

    FACT: There are no ads within the Facebook experience on Internet.org. If revenue were the goal, Facebook would have focused resources on markets where online advertising is already thriving."


    Note the weasel words. They are not saying there are not ads on internet.org, they are saying there are no ads on facebook on internet.org. But given all the site restrictions, I would bet getting your ads properly served is next to impossible. In fact this gem from the participation guidelines just about guarantees it:
    In order for your content to be proxied as described above, your URLs may be re-written and embedded content (like javascript and content originating from another domain) removed. In addition, secure content is not supported and may not load.
    But just because the internet.org Facebook is Ad-Free, doesn't mean Facebook isn't willing to offer their ad network to you.

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

  • icon
    jakerome (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 1:52pm

    And who is funding the rest?

    "And two, if Facebook is so very concerned about the poor, it should put its money where its mouth is and shift to a subsidized model that gets Facebook out of the way and provides access to the real Internet, free from obvious interference, censorship, privacy and neutrality concerns."

    I imagine providing the real internet for free will cost a little more than Facebook is willing to spend. Who's going to step up & spend the rest?

    Maybe sites should just offer 1% for the developing world. 1% of total revenue is used to subsidize internet access. You guys should get it started!

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

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 2:15pm

      Re: And who is funding the rest?

      Thanks for admitting that internet.org is not the internet. As has been noted, subsidized free access has been done in the past. And nothing in that statement requires that facebook provide unlimited data or not perform reasonable network management. It only says that facebook shouldn't restrict what and how people try to view the internet. Its very important given Facebook's censorious past actions and the ease of censorship when there is a central gateway.

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

      • icon
        jakerome (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 3:35pm

        Re: Re: And who is funding the rest?

        You're welcome?

        Here's the thing: none of us are in a position to demand Facebook do anything. If the campaign to get them to not do something is successful, it's not clear that Facebook or anyone else will pick up the baton for subsidized access. In any case, it will certainly take longer to provide that access.

        But for people that already have the real internet, getting Facebook to not provide a dumbed down version is a win, right? After all, the poor in developing country shouldn't be allowed the option of accepting Facebook's Internet.org offer. We know better what the developing poor want than they do.

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

        • icon
          James Burkhardt (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 7:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: And who is funding the rest?

          You continue to apply the middle ground fallacy. https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/middle-ground You ignore all of the problems with the approach as suggested, those problems being lack of security, lack of anonymity, and likelihood for censorship.. You fail to understand that if facebook provides internet this way, it will disincentivize other companies from finding a different way. It is very likely to remain the only choice for the poor. AOL only failed because better options came along, and those options only came along because of the commercial benefits.

          Subsidized rate- or data-limited access to the internet would achieve the same effects, could be done for similar cost. The significant difference is facebook won't be positioned to be the only ad provider to 2/3 of the world.

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

        • identicon
          Graeme, 22 May 2015 @ 5:56am

          Re: Re: Re: And who is funding the rest?

          Access to the internet is exploding in the third world thanks to falling prices. It was growing anyway, but cheaper smartphones are accelerating it.

          ISPs are keen to encourage it and offer low price, low volume packages. Take a look at this for less than $3/month: OK, you cannot watch much video with that, but at least you have access to the whole internet.

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

  • identicon
    Jack, 21 May 2015 @ 2:04pm

    Sure, they may not be injecting advertisements to make revenue, but literally all traffic for the "internet" in these developing nations will be flowing directly through facebook and all of the data warehoused. Everything you read, everything you say, every site you visit and what you do there will be stored by facebook, and since they are essentially the ISP, they will be able to correlate that with real people and real devices.

    Imagine how much that data is worth... That data warehouse is the what tech companies wet dreams are made of...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 2:22pm

    I notice the restrictions as they speak rather loudly.

    Content can't integrate video, VoIP, Flash, Javascript or Java applets. Internet.org is also blocking any and all encrypted sites at a point in time when encryption is more important than ever, for developed and developing nations alike.


    First Facebook does not say there will never be ads. They say they aren't there now. One of the wet dreams of tech companies is a datawarehouse. One of the wet dreams of advertisers is individual identified data. By setting up the inability to use encryption they are guaranteeing their access to all data. This isn't by accident and it's a no brainer what it is about.

    I already have enough problems with Facebook gathering data, especially since I am not a member, don't have an account, never been there, and don't want one.

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

  • icon
    OldMugwump (profile), 21 May 2015 @ 3:13pm

    I have some sympathy for Zuckerberg

    OK, time for me to set myself up for attack again by saying something moderate.

    I think Zuckerberg is sincere here, at least mostly. He really wants to bring Internet access to the 3rd world, and is only minimally trying to personally benefit from the project (not saying some of that hasn't leaked in - it clearly has).

    But this is a mistake.

    I'm sympathetic to the intent behind the technology restrictions (video, VoIP, Flash, Javascript or Java applets); these are not content restrictions, and these technologies all involve a high ratio of computrons to content (unlike text).

    But it's dumb. Targeting feature phones might have been sensible 15 years ago. But by the time this rolls out even peasant farmers will have smartphones (the price of a basic one is heading toward zero very, very rapidly).

    And - even if he could somehow make the technology limits stick, guess what would happen? People would start encoding video, VoIP, etc. in text files, that's what.

    So I give him credit for trying to do a good thing. I think he means well (with only a little self-interest involved).

    We should thank him, and gently but firmly explain why it's a bad idea.

    I do wish people were more charitable in their assessment of the motives of those they disagree with. People can be wrong without being evil or selfish.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 3:31pm

      Re: I have some sympathy for Zuckerberg

      I'm sympathetic to the intent behind the technology restrictions (video, VoIP, Flash, Javascript or Java applets); these are not content restrictions, and these technologies all involve a high ratio of computrons to content (unlike text).

      The big problem with these restriction is that they block the most useful educational resources available on the Internet. Text is of limited value when trying learn practical skills, while a few minutes of video can make how to do something clear.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 3:35pm

      Re: I have some sympathy for Zuckerberg

      It appears as though you don't understand why Facebook exists to begin with. It's a revenue generating machine fueled by the specifics shared by and behaviors of its users. Zuckerberg knows exactly what he is doing and thinks everyone is stupid enough to believe it.

      Period.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 8:35am

        Re: Re: I have some sympathy for Zuckerberg

        I do wish people were more charitable in their assessment of the motives of those they disagree with. People can be wrong without being evil or selfish.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 9:16am

      Re: I have some sympathy for Zuckerberg

      "People can be wrong without being evil or selfish."

      Absolutely true. But people also have track histories, and we have to interpret Zuckerberg's actions through the lens of his history. And his personal history is dominated by him being evil and selfish.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2015 @ 3:50pm

    I would have never guessed that nugatory was a word...

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

  • identicon
    Zorkmid, 21 May 2015 @ 3:58pm

    will you PLEASE quit mischaracterizing Compuserve? It makes you sound stupid!

    Perhaps you are too young to have used Compuserve but millions of us are not. It was NEVER like Zuckerberg's oppressive first-dose-is-free walled-garden "internet.org".

    Every time you try to insult Zuckerberg's monstrosity by likening it to Compuserve you make yourself sound stupid.

    Compuserve charged virtually all users the same rate (by the hour, because it was dial-up). It was not a "walled garden" in which captive users were tied down and digitally-raped by advertisers. Compuserve was NOT a place where people too poor to get "real BBS service" went to get advertiser-supported "pseudo-free BBS service". Compuserve was just a very good, giant BBS/timesharing service which sophisticated people used to communicate before the (TCP/IP) Internet/WWW grew up.

    Ask Jerry Pournelle (the world's first blogger) if Compuserve was like Zuckerberg's project. Ask anyone, if you won't believe me.

    Prodigy or even AOL would serve your comparison purposes better.

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 9:19am

      Re: will you PLEASE quit mischaracterizing Compuserve? It makes you sound stupid!

      I agree. AOL should be would be a much more apt comparison (although even that isn't perfect.)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 12:02am

    "either doesn't understand, or doesn't want to understand, what critics are saying"
    Or more likely, they understand and they are lying.
    For fucks sake why do you think that every word they say is true?

    Same for the government, a lot of articles here make it look like they are dumb and dont understand whats happening instead of accepting the fact that people lie.

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

  • identicon
    Guardian, 22 May 2015 @ 8:01am

    the big lie

    oh here is some free stuff you can have...later as millions more are into it...take it away and put money items in place ....and do so gradually .....

    this is what they are doing

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

  • icon
    jlaprise (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 9:08am

    Talk about #Firstworldproblems.

    Where to start?

    -Facebook is a business and internet.org is a product.
    -Some access _is_ better than no access. The online discussions necessarily only include the voices and opinions of those people with access.
    -This is an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Would free access for everyone be optimal? Yes. Is anyone offering that? No. Is someone offering a limited form of it? Yes.
    -It's not altruism. It is about accessing big new markets and customers. That said, no one else is reaching out to these people on this scale. In the process users will determine what they want. Once users have experience of internet.org, it will likely lead to an experience of a less filtered Internet. How many people still have AOL accounts?
    -Criticisms regarding privacy, security, and censorship are quaint. In all of these countries, the government already undermines these goals more than Internet.org.

    Again #firstworldproblems

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

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 9:22am

      Re:

      "This is an example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good."

      I disagree completely. This is letting the bad be the enemy of the good. This effort is bad for nearly everyone: it's bad for the internet at large, and it's bad for the people who will use the service.

      What I find interesting is that the entire controversy could have been avoided if Facebook wasn't trying to claim that what it's doing is allowing internet access (since that's not what it's doing). If they has said that it was a private, specialized service then there probably would have been little backlash.

      What they're doing instead is more like a bait-and-switch.

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

      • icon
        jlaprise (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 9:35am

        Re: Re:

        No it is not. For people who have never had Internet access before, it is a godsend. It grows the number of users globally. As those users become familiar with the limitations of internet.org, they'll look for other solutions and unfettered access. It's certainly suboptimal (free unfettered access) but I don't see anyone offering that. Until that mythical white knight appears, I'll welcome whatever resources are offered.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2015 @ 3:06pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          As those users become familiar with the limitations of internet.org, they'll look for other solutions and unfettered access.
          That's a great argument for people who live in a digital prison, not so great for those in a walled garden. You don't seek out unfettered access when you're not even aware you've been chained, and meanwhile they're planting landmines in the flower beds.

          (Forgive the prose: I'm in training to fight James Comey this summer in the Ultimate Tortured Metaphor Smackdown Challenge.)

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

          • icon
            jlaprise (profile), 22 May 2015 @ 4:39pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Agreed. Except as this whole discussion demonstrates, there is no dearth of people and organizations interested in telling and showing people in walled gardens that they are in walled gardens. There's little danger of Ignorance's long term triumph.

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

  • identicon
    Smith, 13 May 2016 @ 3:45am

    wow , thanks for this information.
    I hope facebook company more attention for making user enjoyable using this social media.

    Agent,
    Smith airpaz.com

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

  • identicon
    Smith, 13 May 2016 @ 3:45am

    wow , thanks for this information.
    I hope facebook company more attention for making user enjoyable using this social media.

    Agent,
    Smith airpaz.com

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


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