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Facebook’s new initiative, Internet.org, has been receiving a lot of criticism lately, especially after PM Modi’s visit to Facebook headquarters extending support to the initiative.
According to Internet.org website:
“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.”
While this sounds like a noble initiative, questions are being raised about the way in which Internet.org is planning to achieve its goal.
Before you decide to add the tricolour ‘supportdigitalindia’ filter to your Facebook profile picture, here’s what you need to know about Internet.org.
Internet.org initiative was launched on August 20, 2013. At the time of launch, Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a ten-page whitepaper citing that the initiative was launched to improve internet access for people around the world. He also said that “connectivity is a human right.”
Internet.org is a partnership between Facebook and six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) that plans to bring affordable access to selected internet services to less developed countries.
According to a TechCrunch article, Zuckerberg’s vision for Internet.org was as follows: “The idea, he said, is to develop a group of basic internet services that would be free of charge to use — “a 911 for the internet.” These could be a social networking service like Facebook, a messaging service, maybe search and other things like weather. Providing a bundle of these free of charge to users will work like a gateway drug of sorts — users who may be able to afford data services and phones these days just don’t see the point of why they would pay for those data services. This would give them some context for why they are important, and that will lead them to paying for more services like this — or so the hope goes.”
How is this being achieved? To provide free basic internet access, Internet.org allows subscribers of partner mobile networks to use a limited number of online services without having to pay to make use of the data involved.
On October 9, 2014, at the first Internet.org summit in New Delhi, Zuckerberg announced that Internet.org is launching a contest with a $1 million prize, with the goal of making people in India want the web.
Internet.org is formally launched in India on 10 February 2015 in partnership with Reliance Communications.
On 15 April 2015 several partners of the Indian internet.org program quit due to what they perceived as Facebook’s violation of net neutrality. Travel booking site Cleartrip said it was impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest.
In May 2015 a total of 67 digital rights groups from across the world sign an open letter to Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, stating concerns about the initiative. They say the project threatens freedom of expression, privacy and the principle of net neutrality. The letter has been published on Facebook.
Facebook continues to defend its offer. A spokesman from Facebook told the BBC: “We are convinced that as more and more people gain access to the internet, they will see the benefits and want to use even more services.”
Since 2014, the project has launched in Zambia, India, Colombia, Guatemala, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malawi. According to Facebook, over nine million people have used the scheme up until May 2015.