Internet.org is a partnership between social networking service company Facebook and seven mobile phone companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Microsoft, Opera Software, Reliance and Qualcomm) that plans to bring affordable access to selected Internet services to less developed countries by increasing affordability, increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access.
It has been criticized for violating net neutrality and favoring Facebook’s own services over its rivals. An Indian journalist, in his reply to Mark Zuckerberg’s article defending Internet.org in India, criticized Internet.org as “being just a Facebook proxy targeting India’s poor” as it provides restricted internet access to Reliance Telecom’s subscribers in India. As a part of Internet.org, users can access only a select few websites, some having tie-ups with Facebook.
Internet.org sets Facebook as a quasi-internet service provider—except that unlike a local or national telco, all web traffic will be routed through Facebook’s servers. In other words, for people using Internet.org to connect to the internet, Facebook will be the de facto gatekeeper of the world’s information. And unfortunately, Facebook is already showing what a poor gatekeeper it would be by not allowing participating sites to use SSL or TLS, two of the most commonly used security protocols that encrypt web traffic and protect users from online attacks. This puts confidential data of every user at risk.
And for a program that envisions to empower people by giving them access to digital information, it is oddly secretive about it’s own operations. It is not sharing many important details, including details on policies regarding user data, responding to government requests, partnership models with telecom operator partners, or administration of the program.
Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama writes, “No matter what Facebook says about Internet.org being a means of promoting Internet usage, it isn’t. It’s a fundamental, permanent change in the way the Internet works by splitting it into free vs paid access.”
While it’s touted as a viable and cheap access to the internet for developing nations, what it really does is give users a taste of connectivity before prompting them to purchase pricey data plans, and thus fails to acknowledge the economic reality for millions of new internet users who can’t afford those plans. This clearly will serve to widen—not narrow—the digital divide.
Internet.org will offer websites and services that are submitted directly to it, similar to how users choose apps from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. A truly open internet cannot, and must not, work like an app store with one company holding the key.
While, free internet surely sounds good, the concerns over privacy and data protection are valid indeed. Unsecured access means telcos snooping through our personal data, and the government too. A viable alternative would have been simply getting data providers to reduce their data usage charges.
– It is an open platform that allows any company to sign up to be zero rated, wherein customers won’t have to pay for accessing these sites, and websites will have to be approved to be allowed in.
– Facebook will allow all types of low bandwidth services to sign up for the platform.
– Websites do not pay Facebook to be included, operators do not charge developers
– Services should not use VoIP, video, file transfer, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos.
– There will be bookmarked services, and a search option.
It’s imperative that we spread awareness about this issue. In India, more than a million people have submitted comments to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Net Neutrality and Indian tech companies are speaking out about Internet.org, in many cases voting by withdrawing from the program.
However, its unfair to say that it’s all bad. In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Chris Daniels, the Vice President of Product for Internet.org at Facebook says ‘I think the key thing here is that some access is better than no access. The purest definition of net neutrality shouldn’t be used to deny people access to the internet.’
He further says, ‘This is about online literacy. This is about helping people understand the value of being online. It’s absolutely not our goal to introduce people to a version of the internet that’s free and have them believe that is the entire internet. In order for this to work for operators who are paying for free data, people have to be encouraged to eventually pay for data to explore the broader internet. You don’t have to be a Facebook user to access Internet.org content.’ Read the full interview here- Chris Daniels Hindustan Times Interview
Some access is better than no access. […] You don’t have to be a Facebook user to access Internet.org content.
We’re now at turning point. The next three billion people to go online could enjoy the same empowering, non-discriminatory access to knowledge and tools for expression as the first three billion. Or they could get a second-class experience, limited to internet-connected services and applications in a walled garden built by big tech and telecom companies—with the open internet just beyond their reach.