I was going through my Facebook feed (the free and non-exclusive one as yet) and suddenly came across this brilliant quote by Taher Khorakiwala which read “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land. – Desmond Tutu. When Facebook and Airtel missionaries came to rescue the poor they had the Internet and we had freedom. They said it’s free. We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Facebook & Airtel and they had our freedom.
Though I wanted to keep mum considering I had resigned from Google just days after this entire debate started, I could not stop myself from writing after reading what Mr. Zuckerberg said on his Facebook page about how internet.org is good and justified and is only meant for a noble cause. So I decided I will tell him how and why is he wrong. I know there is only a .000001% chance he will read this but then I still decided to go ahead with this.
For starters lets look at what internet.org is. Basically Facebook wanted to penetrate developing countries, some of them already have huge base of Google and other companies who rival Facebook. So they started tying up with telecom providers to push subscribers free access to SELECTED WEBSITES. In India they have partnered with Reliance Communications. What this does is limits the users to using a few pre-selected websites with Facebook at the center. Imagine you wanting to use Google, this one won’t allow you to and will push an ultra pathetic BING.
Lets take a look at what sites are free. Around 40 odd are free. These include content sites (e.g. Aaj Tak, Times of India, India Today), some educational sites (Internet Basics, Wikipedia). Microsoft’s Bing search engine, and Reliance Astrology also come in the packet.
So what’s the problem? The problem is asking users to access pre-selected set of websites and not letting the power to choose in the hand of users. If this is what Facebook’s core thinking behind this is, then what’s the point in keeping the motto around “making the world a more open place”. Shouldn’t all traffic on the Internet must be treated equally by internet service providers? Zuckerberg in one of his articles writes that internet.org helps lower the cost of accessing the internet and also raises the awareness of internet’s value. Maybe Mark but why limit it to chosen sites by a couple of companies basis their commercial interests. When you pre-load people with your choices of websites, isn’t that giving a advantage to some players and disadvantage to so many others. Internet has been the biggest creator of businesses in the history of mankind and bodies like internet.org in its current shape is actually against that and hence it’s a much bigger crime than its being seen now.
But lets be honest, Facebook is not the only player who has played the zero-rating scheme games. Google, Twitter and other large Internet companies have done this as well. Fortunately a huge set of awareness has come in now.
Large Internet and telecom companies need to be honest to their consumers. Internet.org would be a great thing if it allowed free access to all sites equally. It is for these above stated wrong reasons that smaller and developing countries like Chile and Slovenia have banned such schemes while European countries are said to be considering such a move.
PS: Am a huge Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook fan and I hope he corrects the wrong in this case.