Internet.org, Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative to bring free internet to the developing world has met with new opposition from a 67-strong digital rights advocacy coalition.
Since the program launched in India in February 2014, Internet.org was under the scrutiny of digital rights advocacy groups. Since then, the first outbursts of criticism referred to Facebook’s service incapacity to guard net neutrality.
This new round aimed at Facebook’s free internet service refers to the breaches of the freedom of expression, as well as to net neutrality, security issues and increasing inequality.
The 67 advocacy groups expressed their concerns in an open letter addressed to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.
While the dream of bringing connectivity all over the world may be laudable, the back mechanisms that are providing the poor with free internet access via Internet.org are lacking transparency, openness and are threatening to divide the world even more.
In return for allowing users to access certain websites and feature without data charges, Facebook and Internet.org are turning into gatekeepers of what is supposed to be the internet, dictating de facto what users may or may not access.
Facebook is not alone in launching and developing Internet.org. Samsung, Nokia, Opera and Ericsson have joined the ranks by partnering with Facebook.
This type of partnership draws the criticism of local companies and developers who unanimously state that they are being pushed out of the process and others who jumped the wagon over concerns regarding net-neutrality.
Internet.org opened its platform to developers who can design any website or application that meets the necessary technical requirements. These entail a low-bandwidth service that is running on any basic phone. Images surpassing more than 1Mb in size cannot be uploaded.
Moreover, operators are bearing the cost of free access. This is one of the tricky parts, also raised as a concern in the open-letter addressed to Zuckerberg.
The operators are bearing the costs for now as they believe one day people from these impoverished areas will switch to paid access. Also, while any developer may work on the Internet.org platform, the final product still gets to be approved by Facebook.
In a Hindustan Times editorial, Internet.org was described as:
“an ambitious project to confuse hundreds of millions of emerging market users into thinking that Facebook and the internet are one and the same.”
How can universal connectivity and net neutrality or zero-rating agreements coexists? According to the CEO of Facebook, there is no conflict between the two and it follows easily that for a group of people to have free access to the Internet, only some services will pop up to offer it for free. Some access is better than none, explained Zuckerberg.
On the other hand, the digital rights advocacy coalition explains in the open letter how net-neutrality puts both equality of opportunity and freedom of expression in danger. By allowing service providers to favor one service in the detriment of another, chances of restricting the equality of opportunity run high.
For users, this translated into only getting to see one tiny part of the Internet, never all they would like to access.
Other issues that Internet.org is facing are connected to possible security threats. In the same technical guidelines, Facebook’s Internet.org is asking website that want to join the platform to function in a non-secure environment.
The platform lacks security features like SSL, HTTPS, TLS, thus making the platform a sitting duck for attacks or government surveillance and possible crackdown. Before addressing possible exterior security breaches, Facebook needs to answer to how is the user data collected by Internet.org and IPS partners dealt with.
Reportedly, since Internet.org was launched in India in 2014, another nine locations followed, generating a number of nine million users so far. Zambia, Guatemala, Colombia, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Indonesia have joined Internet.org.
Image Source: NBCNews