On October 28, 2015, at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, Mark Zuckerberg has spoken of increasing Internet access to Indians, as well as “squashing” Candy Crush invites in new versions of the highly ubiquitous social networking platform that has over one billion users worldwide.
In order to increase Internet access, Facebook has launched Internet.org, a free Internet service aimed at potential users in developing countries, such as India, which still lacks Internet for up to one billion of its citizens.
“Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.”
— The Quint (@TheQuint) October 28, 2015
Worries are that this increase in Internet usage around the world comes at the cost of Facebook being a gatekeeper of content for those using its services. “Save The Internet,” a not-for-profit company in India fighting for net neutrality, objects to Zuckerberg’s vision as it stands. Internet.org would not contain all the websites indexed on Google, for example, but would contain websites which will have signed up to Zuckerberg’s plan and have been approved. The profit structure of Internet.org is why activists are concerned.
“I look at this I say, if you have a student who is getting free access to the internet and wouldn’t have had access otherwise, who’s getting hurt there?”
The move to block Candy Crush is being seen as one of many user identified features currently lacking in the social media platform, including adding a dislike button. As Facebook responds to user requests, it must balance its activities as a for-profit company with the free services it offers.
— iGyaan (@igyaan) October 28, 2015
— Benjamin Lagues(@BenSMM) September 28, 2015
Internet.org is already running in some African countries, as well as Colombia. Six states in India are now being offered free service: Tamil Nadu, Mahararashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telegana are now connected.
The dedicated Android app is available in English and six local Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati and Marathi.
Services include Facebook and Facebook messenger, BBC, Reuters, ESPN, India Today, and Wikipedia, among others which provide information under the general categories of travel, weather, sports, and parenting.
The accusation of profit motives are not so much denied by Facebook, but the free offering of the above services might be enough to persuade the billion yet unconnected users in India to switch to Facebook’s free services.
The opposition to Internet.org, however, is not going away. Sixty-seven digital rights groups have signed a letter to Zuckerberg expressing concerns over net neutrality and the fact his service will only offer a sliver of what the total web has to offer.
Currently, the basic criteria to be included on the list is simple. A website cannot require high bandwidth and not be rich in HD content, as developing countries have limited access to bandwidth. Internet.org is, therefore, seen as a stepping stone connecting those who have no Internet to the World Wide Web, albeit in its limited form offered by Facebook.
Other concerns regard security, as the secure protocol, HTTPS, is not yet supported.
[Image by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images]