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May 19, 2015

Hostility Against Zuckerberg’s Internet.org Continues to Grow

67 Advocacy Agencies in 31 Countries Say Initiative Violating Net Neutrality

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s baby, Internet.org, is under fire from advocate groups around the world.

In an open letter to Zuckerberg, 67 advocacy organizations in 31 countries accused Internet.org — a global initiative to make Internet access available to five billion new households in underdeveloped areas by 2023 — of violating the principles of Net neutrality.

Some of the groups criticizing the initiative include the Center for Media Justice and the Media Alliance from the U.S. and the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

Screen Shot 2015-05-18 at 3.23.36 PM“It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services,” reads the letter.

“Further, we are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs. In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”

Facebook was first accused about three weeks ago of ignoring Net neutrality rules in its Internet.org initiative. To combat the criticism, Zuckerberg announced the Internet.org Platform, an open program permitting developers to create services that integrate with Internet.org.

The program, however, has resulted in yet more criticism because the platform does not support encrypted or protected apps.

“We have always sought to provide non-discriminatory access to the full open Internet, without privileging certain applications or services over others and without compromising the privacy and security of users,” the letter says. “Internet.org appears to be taking another route.”

The coalition accused Internet.org of collecting user data via apps and services which can then be used by Facebook and the telecom companies partnering on the initiative.

Facebook has said that Internet.org does not share user data with its partners. It also said third-party developers are not obligated to share user information with Internet.org.

“We and our critics share a common vision of helping more people gain access to the broadest possible range of experiences and services on the Internet,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to the media.

“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,” the spokesperson said. “We believe this so strongly that we have worked with operators to offer basic services to people at no charge, convinced that new users will quickly want to move beyond basic services and pay for more diverse, valuable services.”

The groups, however, are demanding Facebook make changes to ensure Net neutrality is supported.

Below is an excerpt from the letter detailing the groups’ concerns:

  • Net neutrality: Net neutrality supports freedom of expression and equality of opportunity by enabling people to seek, receive and impart information, and to interact as equals. It requires that the Internet be maintained as an open platform on which network providers treat all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination. An important aspect of net neutrality states that everyone should be able to innovate without permission from anyone or any entity.

We urge Facebook to assert its support for a true definition of net neutrality in which all applications and services are treated equally and without discrimination — especially in the majority world, where the next three billion Internet users are coming online — and to address the significant privacy and security flaws inherent in the current iteration of Internet.org.

  • Zero rating: Zero rating is the practice by service providers of offering their customers a specific set of services or applications that are free to use without a data plan, or that do not count against existing data caps. This practice is inherently discriminatory — which is why it has been banned or restricted in countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Chile.

Zero rating is currently Internet.org‘s basic model: Facebook is partnering with ISPs around the world to offer access to certain Internet applications to users at no cost. These agreements endanger freedom of expression and equality of opportunity by letting service providers decide which Internet services will be privileged over others, thus interfering with the free flow of information and people’s rights vis-a-vis networks.

  • Nomenclatureorgmisleadingly labels zero-rated applications the “Internet,” when in fact users only receive access to a tiny portion of it. The project acts as a “walled garden” in which some services are favored over others — again, a violation of net neutrality.
  • Freedom of expression: The project raises other freedom of expression risks. The censorship capability of Internet gateways is well established  —  some governments require ISPs to block access to sites or services. Facebook appears to be putting itself in a position whereby governments could apply pressure to block certain content, or even, if users must log in for access, block individual users. Facebook would find itself mediating the real surveillance and censorship threats to politically active users in restrictive environments. The company should not take on this added responsibility and risk by creating a single centralized checkpoint for the free flow of information.
  • Privacy: We are very concerned about the privacy implications of org.Facebook’s privacy policy does not provide adequate protections for new Internet users, some of whom may not understand how their data will be used, or may not be able to properly give consent for certain practices. Given the lack of statements to the contrary, it is likely Internet.orgcollects user data via apps and services. There is a lack of transparency about how that data are used by Internet.org and its telco partners. Internet.org also provides only a handful of applications and services, making it easier for governments and malicious actors to surveil user traffic.
  • Security: The current implementation of orgthreatens the security of users. The May 4 update to the program prohibits the use of TLS (Transport Layer Security), Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or HTTPS encryption by participating services. This inherently puts users at risk, because their web traffic will be vulnerable to malicious attacks and government eavesdropping.
  • Two-tiered Internet: The economic boom and revolution in connectivity that the Internet created in developed countries needs to be shared equally with the next three billion people org’s model  — giving users a taste of connectivity before prompting them to purchase pricey data plans  — fails to acknowledge the economic reality for millions of people who can’t afford those plans. These new users could get stuck on a separate and unequal path to Internet connectivity, which will serve to widen  — not narrow  — the digital divide.

 


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Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.

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