A tech startup in 2004 which came up with the best photo sharing social networking space has now become one of the most relevant tech giants of the world. Starting from Facebook for social networking to third party app development over which gaming startups thrived to actually providing internet to the population on the wrong side of digital divide, they have come a long way.
It’s needless to say that by acquiring Instagram and Whatsapp and with the amount of activity and active users on these two and Facebook itself it has the best analytics information covering most of the internet users arguably in terms of quantity and without doubt in terms of quality. By launching Facebook APIs in 2012 which is the most common login method in US, they are not only generating information about what their users are doing on the internet but also making those users dependent on Facebook. If I use all my favorite applications using Facebook login, I just can’t remove my Facebook account.
So, after covering all these what’s the next step? To get those people who still don’t have internet and there comes Internet.org by Facebook. It provides free ‘limited’ internet services to people who can’t afford internet. It sounds brilliant except for the word ‘limited’ which sparks the net neutrality debate, one of the hottest internet debates in the world right now.
Why Facebook as a community is doing this? Optimists talk about Corporate Social Responsibility whereas the cynical ones mark it as a step towards covering the untouched market and spreading it there in a monopolistic way by providing those limited services which have some sort of association with them. Well, they are both right to a certain extent.
Now, unlike the telecom operators like Airtel coming up with Airtel Zero just for big corporate giants to pay them for internet, Facebook have classified some important sections for the masses like education, skill and jobs, information and news etc covering the most relevant uses of the internet. But then, two other factors need to be considered which challenge the sanctity of the initiative.
Firstly, Internet.org should not be available to everyone, it should only be available to those who can’t afford internet, if that’s the true aim of providing essential information based services to the people on the wrong side of the digital divide. This sounds far-fetched as far as implementation is concerned but there’s a simple way. You can either choose a data plan provided by your network operator or Internet.org, you can’t have both and these should be on a monthly basis so that people just don’t keep switching to free internet as per their will. A lot of people who can afford internet would never go for limited services provided by Internet.org this way. Everyone who has used internet as it exists today wants it to be unhindered.
Secondly, Internet.org hasn’t included any Google services which is in collusion with their corporate interest of keeping Google out of the new market they are trying to cover. It is quiet natural but as far as a consumer is concerned Google and it’s various tools provide unmatched knowledge and information. Replacing Google with Bing can still be justified as a substitute although it truly isn’t but not having Youtube indicates malicious corporate market covering strategy. Youtube has become the most popular learning and skill development tool and needs to be there if internet as a learning tool is being professed.
But, as far as one of the most significant debates considering the net neutrality is concerned, Facebook is putting in a dedicated effort towards it. The argument is that net neutrality is essential for web startups and curbing it will curb all web startups. Facebook is already providing Parse for a quick and a robust back-end development for tech startups to make their products and have come up with FbStart as an entire tool to build, grow, monetize, analyze and expand the web based tech-organizations and it is free. They have access to the user based analytics information which is provided along with development mentorship and finally development for low bandwidth regions andInternet.org! So, it might violate net neutrality in some ways but is not curbing web based tech organizations to enter the space and the new market.
So, we might argue that Facebook is violating net neutrality but certainly not to the diabolical extent as the telecom companies who have run out of ideas. It is probably doing more good than evil. It is trying to hamper competition from another giant Google but is still encouraging startups to be a part of it and go along with it to get into the new market and provide services to the population who are still not on internet because they can’t afford it. Yes, it is attaching itself to all of them in the process but is providing them unprecedented benefits while trying to become the most significant name in the internet domain.