People in communities around the world are connecting to the Internet, but many have no idea that this is what they are doing. Around 10% of Facebook users in developing countries have no idea they are using the internet according to a report by Quartz. Mark Zuckerberg’s apparently philanthropic effort to bring free Internet access to everyone, with the program internet.org. is locking people into using Facebook and away from other services. Many companies in developing countries are selling Facebook only data packages, due to the popularity of the site, at much lower costs then regular data packages.
This is a worrying turn of events, as Facebook fans out across the globe, only limited services will be available to the users of the free internet.org application. Already in some places the word internet seems to have been replaced by Facebook, to be on the internet is to be on Facebook, there is no affordable alternative. The reason that this is such a disappointing turn of events, is to do with the ongoing debate around net neutrality (summed up here). Access to the free and open internet, is neutral, anybody has access to anything online, anybody can create content. However when using the internet.org app, this is not the case. This app is a closed app, it is controlled by the Facebook organisation and they make the rules about what can and can’t be posted, what will and won’t be seen by the users.
Thus as internet.org expands, many people will have no understanding of what open access to the web allows. They will be limited to a small censored and carefully controlled sample of what the internet could potentially offer. This has broader implications internationally as well, as more people come on line through the use of Facebook, it means that anyone interested in communicating with the world must do there business, their everyday communication on Facebook. If you can only access customers on Facebook, then you are tied to using it. And to use Facebook, you have to play by the rules set by Facebook, ultimately Facebook has the power, and the idea of a free and neutral internet vanishes.