Privacy rights and open internet advocates are sounding the alarm after Facebook on Monday announced changes to its “free” Internet for the developing world, dubbed Internet.org, which critics say threatens to make the social networking company the de facto Internet “gatekeeper” for hundreds of millions worldwide.
Branded as an initiative to “connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access,” Internet.org will reportedly work with local telecom providers to provide free Internet access to a handful of pre-selected websites—including Facebook—as well as others related to “health, education, communication, finance, jobs and local information.” The application has already launched in a number of African and Southeast Asian countries, as well as Colombia in South America.
Internet.org has previously come under fire for violating the principle of net neutrality because it only offers access to certain websites. In India, a number of major publications including the Times of India media group have withdrawn from the site in protest.
In response to that critique, in a video address on Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg announced a new platform model, under which Facebook will offer “an open program for developers” to create “very simple and data efficient” sites to be among those offered to Internet.org users.
“Giving people more choice over the services they use is incredibly important,” Facebook said.
“However they may want to present Internet.org, Facebook are not in the business of philanthropy, they’re in the business of making money,”
—Paul Bernal, University of East Anglia