Facebook announced yesterday that it was opening up its Internet.org service to all sites, in response to criticism that it was playing favorites and undermining net neutrality in developing countries - effectively conditioning the population to accept a filtered, watered down internet which the company just so happens to control.
The scheme, heavily promoted by the personal-data-for-ads company, looks to connect people in emerging markets with free internet access.
Its launch yesterday exposed the project as a privacy nightmare rife with issues that expose it for the personal data grab that it is.
The list of issues
No matter what Facebook says about Internet.org being a means of promoting Internet usage, it isn’t.
Instead, it’s a fundamental, permanent change in the way the Internet works by splitting it into free vs paid access. It isn’t the same as giving someone Rs 10 of data access or even 100 mb. It is a permanent shift.
While the kingmaker issue has been somewhat resolved by opening up the platform, there is still one king in all of this, and its Facebook.
Given the company's central role, there are significant concerns with their terms and conditions, especially those around Facebook’s favorite topic – Privacy.
Facebook, telecom companies and the government see EVERYTHING
If you’re a user, Facebook, your telecom operator and the government will know everything you are doing:
“We collect information when you install, run or use any of our services, including the free websites and services provided through Internet.org,” says Facebook.
“In addition, secure content is not supported and may not load”…”your content or service should not rely on passing or collecting encrypted information — resources that do so will not be accessible within Internet.org or will be dropped altogether. While we would prefer to support fully encrypted connections between user and website in all cases, proxying for third-party sites does not allow for this in its current implementation without introducing man-in-the-middle capabilities.”
This part is huge. As the world, such as Firefox, moves to a secure (https only) web, Facebook is going the opposite way. Without https (secure sites), telecom operators will be able to snoop on users, and through them, so will the government.
Is Privacy a reasonable price to pay for free access to a directory of services?
Should the fact that India doesn’t have a privacy law be a factor in allowing Facebook to launch Internet.org? The Internet.org proxy (details) is without https.
Your privacy gets even smaller as if you’re a site on Internet.org, Facebook will know what users are doing on your site.
Telecom operators can still get to play kingmaker
“Operators may decline services that cause undue strain to networks, or breach legal or regulatory requirements.”
No matter how its framed, the plan will violate net neutrality principles and favor certain sites over others.
This is particularly evil because it grooms newly connected populations to expect a restricted and corporately controlled internet instead of a free one.
Facebook will get rights to all your content
Facebook’s Internet.org ‘participation guidelines‘ page points developers towards its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities“, which clearly states that for content that is covered by Intellectual Property Rights, “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”
In short, Facebook owns all of your content if you participate.
If your competitors are on board, you will need to be too
The reason Times Internet publications remained on Internet.org was that their competitors were also there.
If one competitor chooses to come on board, you will have little choice but to also follow or else lose out on a potentially large user base.
This viral nature, a side effect of violating net neutrality, also forces more data into Facebooks dragnet.
Users will be banned from visiting the open, real, internet
If you try to visit the real internet from inside internet.org, you will be given a warning message. The idea of a warning message when users are moving from a free to a paid service is a good idea. It prevents “bill shock” for users, but this hurdle doesn’t exist on the web.
But in the online world if a user is accessing your service on the open web via a Facebook link, and they get this warning message, they will almost certainly go away.
This is another way Facebook will force you to go on board, in order to gain access to the internet.org userbase
Facebook becomes an even stronger source of access for your content
Don't forget: Facebook throttles content on its own platform, the exact thing the FCC doesn't want to happen on the open internet. This strengthens Facebook and Internet.org’s role in discovery.
Internet.org will require ID
You’ll need a Facebook account for Internet.org, which will require telephone based ID verification.
This is the holy grail for governments, who want to track and trace users for political motives.
“We may collect and use your phone number to determine your eligibility to receive free services, to provide you with relevant offers and services from your operator and others, and to provide you with access to your Facebook account.”
It won't allow any video... except Facebook
If you’re a Video service or use high resolution images, you’re not allowed.
Telecom operators have long been complaining about how consumers who use video services take up significant bandwidth, despite the face consumers have already paid for said bandwidth.
As bandwidth will be more scarce on the free service, it seems logical to reduce high bandwidth applictions.
Yet the way Facebook is doing this is evil.
First, they protect cable company monopolies on video content. If you want video content, you'll have to pay for video service from the telco. This effectively accomplishes the holy grail of cable providers: one service for internet, one service for video. 2 bills.
Second, this move also cuts out the competition, namely Google's Youtube. By restricting video, Facebook, who is trying to be a major video hub itself, kneecaps the competition.
Facebook, of course, gets an exemption to these rules. Not only will it favor its own service but it will also force publishers to publish to Facebook, where the company will own the content and distribute it as it sees fit. Publishers will have zero control of to whom and where their content is displayed and also how it is monetized.
Don't like it? Don't reach out internet.org userbase.
So what's the solution?
Facebook's plan is insidious and carefully thought out to be both feasible and deeply advantageous to the company.
It's designed to protect telco partners and their old, expensive, billing plans while conditioning people in developing countries to accept a two tiered internet that is controlled by Facebook.
It's also precision engineered to kneecap the competition. By holding publishers hostage, by way of a large internet.org userbase, Facebook forces everyone to play by its rules. It also can efficiently knock down competitors like Google, effectively removing them from its 'new internet'.
While internet.org is scary, the solution, should anyone care to implement it, is simple.
If it really wants to get people online, subsidize cheap data packs for potential Internet users. Let them access whatever they want, whether video, VoIP, images, and whichever site they want.
But such a plan won't pay for the hundreds of millions of dollars Facebook has spent on promoting internet.org and it won't accomplish the real goal: fundamentally change the internet so it revolves around Facebook.