Facebook’s thinly disguised plan to control all content on the internet, Internet.org, received more harsh criticism on Tuesday. Rights activist group The Electronic Frontier Foundation condemned the Internet.org project, saying it runs “a real risk” of turning the few websites Facebook selects, “including, of course, Facebook itself”, into a “ghetto” for poor internet users – instead of being a stepping stone to the full world wide web.
Internet.org’s stated goal is to “bring the two thirds of the world who don’t yet have internet access” onto the network, but just what that network constitutes is entirely up to Facebook.
Because of bandwidth restrictions due to the rural location and large number of users, something must be done to ensure there is enough internet for all. Yet Facebook has chosen to limit access to what can be browsed in order to save resources. This puts Facebook into the position of grand arbiter of what gets seem on the ‘internet’ and what does not. The company has already made clear it intends to exclude competitors like Google and Youtube.
A fair way to allocate net resources is via access cards – get cheap internet access and use it for whatever you want – even if that mean. But Facebook is looking to play favorites, effectively indoctrinating a who generation of new users that the Facebook Web is the real Web.
The EFF took issue with exactly this, stating that:
We agree that some Internet access is better than none, and if that is what Internet.org actually provided—for example, through a uniformly rate-limited or data-capped free service—then it would have our full support. But it doesn’t. Instead, it continues to impose conditions and restraints that not only make it something less than a true Internet service, but also endanger people’s privacy and security.
The group is particularly critical of Internet.org’s plan to disallow HTTPS connections, the EFF breaks down a recent announcement by the Zuck regarding the expansion of the platform.
The EFF complains that only some devices, such as Android phones running the official app, will have the technical ability to make encrypted connections through Internet.org, which would easily expose political parties and activists, among others, to spying by governments.
Such spying, in places like West Africa, have led to mass slaughter of political rivals or abductions and harassment for aid groups or rights activists. The fear is that under Internet.org’s plan the spying will become pervasive and could enable coups or other violent conflicts thanks to easy information collection.
But regardless of the inherently flawed technical details of the program, there are other more troubling issues according to the EFF
Even if Facebook were able to figure out a way to support HTTPS proxying on feature phones, its position as Internet gatekeepers remains more broadly troublesome. By setting themselves up as gatekeepers for free access to (portions of) the global Internet, Facebook and its partners have issued an open invitation for governments and special interest groups to lobby, cajole or threaten them to withhold particular content from their service. In other words, Internet.org would be much easier to censor than a true global Internet.
The EFF concludes: “We have confidence that it would be possible to provide a limited free Internet access service that is secure, and that doesn’t rely on Facebook and its partners to maintain a central list of approved sites. Until then, Internet.org will not be living up to its promise, or its name.”
It’s always wise to beware of billionaires bearing gifts, it seems.