Facebook’s Internet.org aims to bring internet access to many developing nations, allowing mobile users to connect to a selection of websites for free. But South Africa’s Right2Know Campaign has spoken out against the “dangerous cul-de-sac” of internet.org in a media statement that it is “compromising [people’s] rights as citizens.”
In doing so, R2K joins a number of voices showing increasing concern that internet.org’s main beneficiary is Facebook rather than the poor. They argue that internet.org undermines “true internet freedom”.
“Facebook’s Internet.org project was initially presented as a philanthropic roll-out of the internet, along with grandiose talk of huge, high-altitude solar-powered drones relaying signals to and from remote areas. However with each successive phase of implementation, an agenda which is not merely profit-seeking but manipulative, becomes more apparent,” says the R2K statement.
Most recently the service launched in Malawi, and has previously been made available in Guatemala, Colombia, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has hit back at criticisms which question the motives of internet.org, and the social network recently published a retort.
““Facebook supports net neutrality and has worked throughout the world to ensure that services can’t be blocked or throttled and to ensure that fast lanes are prohibited. Net neutrality seeks to ensure that network operators don’t limit access to services people want to use, and internet.org’s goal is to provide more people with access. It is good for consumer choice and consumer value. Net neutrality and internet.org can and must co-exist.
“Internet.org does receive some data on navigation information, because it needs to determine what traffic can be delivered free of data charges. This information is used, for example, to understand what services are popular, which helps it determine what types of services to launch in other countries. This is explained to people when they sign up for the service and no user-level navigation history is stored beyond 90 days.”
As an example, users in Kenya on the Airtel network can access BBC Swahili, Daily Nation, OLX, Totohealth, Wikipedia as well as Facebook and 12 other websites. Several internet.org services have been created by South Africans.
But R2K claims that the web services being made available is not up to scratch, and the security measures around them are lacking.
“The right of citizens to communicate without government, corporate or criminal interception (and potential fraudulent alteration) of messages, is a basic one. Given that internet.org is targeted at people who can’t afford the market prices of mobile data, Facebook’s project is irresponsible.”
Facebook is no stranger however to being accused of under-handed dealings, and said that while it does keep some users data, its for navigational purposes only.
That may be so, but R2K is of the opinion that Facebook should rather focus on making the entire internet available for free, instead of a small sliver.
“We call on Facebook to redirect its efforts to promote affordable access to the full, open internet to those who lack it.”
Even if that’s what internet.org wants, it has a huge challenge in its path in the shape of mobile operators in developing regions. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, a panel of internet.org members and mobile operators cautioned that they weren’t happy with Facebook getting a free ride on their infrastructure investments, and that free access was not sustainable.
[Image – CC by 2.0/Johan Larsson]