Concerns are being raised as Facebook’s slimey Internet.org initiative is seeking to expand and triggering fresh fears Internet neutrality is being compromised on a global scale. The service has already reached 17 countries worldwide, and the one year anniversary of the launch seems to only be the beginning for Facebook’s goal of filtering the internet for those too poor to make access commercially viable.
In honor of the one year anniversary Facebook made a blog post saying that a portal will be open through which any mobile operator can offer its service under the Internet.org platform. As of now, Facebook is partnering with specific mobile operators in launching the service within different countries despite many carriers pulling out of the initiative over neutrality concerns.
On Monday, vice president of Internet.org Chris Daniels reported that Internet.org has been able to bring over 9 million people online within the past year though the sites available are only those approved by the social networking giant. Google’s YouTube, for instance, is not on the small list of sites offered under the program.
The initial goal of Facebook and their six technology partners was to bring around 4.5 billion people online, focusing on developing areas such as Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Through this service, users receive Facebook’s messaging service as well as the social network itself as well as pared-down web services all for free.
In their blog post, Facebook reported that within the past year, they were able to acquire new users to its social network over 50 percent faster on average, which is unsurprising given the control Facebook has over the placement of its site under the program.
Interestingly, within 30 days of being introduced to the service, more than half of Internet.org’s users became paying customers of the partner mobile phone operators, creating a perverse incentive for big telcos to market the service as real internet when in fact it is not.
While attending a summit in Nairobi, Daniels commented, “This is really a customer acquisition tool for mobile operators where the benefit to them of offering a very light amount of free data is to bring on more paying subscribers to their networks.”
After its release in India in February, the Internet.org application has received stark criticism from Internet and technology firms as they pulled out in response to activists claims about violation of a neutral Internet.
Daniels commented about the incident, “I would say India is unique in that respect and very much an outlier. In other markets, Internet.org has been embraced as a pro-connectivity initiative that has garnered a lot of support.”
The idea of providing service to those without Internet is certainly an arguably just cause. The quality of life has potential for increase as more people have access online, yet offering users a Facebook branded version of the internet as their first online experience will undoubtedly condition them to expect that experience going forward and deprive them of a free and open internet experience enjoyed by most of the world.
Profit motives and stifling of competition from rival Google have led Facebook to offer the filtered service rather than just giving users bandwidth credits and allow them to use that bandwidth as they please. Such a system would be trivial to implement and address getting people online while still saving bandwidth, which is scarce in rural areas and the oft-touted reason of the pared-down service.
Yet such a simple plan offers less commercial benefit for Facebook, which would rather crush the competition than do the right thing.