Facebook’s Internet.org Criticised In Open Letter

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Open letter accuses Mark Zuckerberg of creating a walled garden with the Internet.org initative

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing growing opposition to his Internet.org project after 67 digital rights groups signed an open letter raising their concerns.

This follows accusations that it is creating a ‘walled garden’ for users, resulting in a monopoly which ignores the principles of net neutrality.

Growing Opposition?

facebook mobile“We, the undersigned, share a common concern about the launch and expansion of Facebook’s Internet.org platform and its implications for the open Internet around the world,” said the letter.

“On that open Internet, all content, applications and services are treated equally, without any discrimination. We are especially concerned that access for impoverished people is construed as justification for violations of net neutrality.”

“It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services,” it added.

“Further, we are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs. In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”

Walled garden?

Zuckerberg first launched the Internet.org scheme back in August 2013, saying that its aim was to connect the so far unconnected parts of the world to the Internet.

So far, the Internet.org project has been rolled out in countries such as India, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Columbia, and there are thought to be about nine million people using the scheme.

Last month Zuckerberg revealed that the scheme would be coming to Europe soon. He also denied at the time that the scheme compromises net neutrality, especially following protests against the scheme in countries such as India.

Following today’s letter, Facebook defended the scheme, telling the BBC it was convinced that as more and more people gain access to the internet, they would see the benefits and want to use even more services.

“We believe this so strongly that we have worked with operators to offer basic services to people at no charge, convinced that new users will quickly want to move beyond basic services and pay for more diverse, valuable services,” the Facebook spokesman reportedly said.

Walled Garden?

But it is the way that Internet.org works that is raising concerns. Essentially, Facebook partners with mobile network providers in the target country, and subscribers can then use those networks free of charge to access a fairly limited number of online services. Google searches, BBC News, Facebook,  Accuweather, Wikipedia etc can be accessed from the scheme.

Internet.org can only be accessed using a dedicated Android app, or the Internet.org website, or Facebook’s own Android app or the Opera Mini browser.

In return the Internet.org customer gets a fairly basic web experience. Web pages are very basic (to minimise data use), and videos, voice chat, and high res photos are not permitted. The network operator tends to sign up to this free service, because they believe that the Internet.org user will soon want a better experience and access to a wider range of services, and thus will pay for this wider internet access.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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