Pando

Advocates complain about the effect of Facebook's Internet.org on privacy, security, and net neutrality

By Nathaniel Mott , written on May 19, 2015

From The News Desk

Facebook's efforts to convince net neutrality advocates that its Internet.org initiative doesn't threaten their ideals have failed to make much of a difference.

Organizations from Indonesia, the Netherlands, Columbia, Nigeria, and other countries have sent an open letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to discuss their concerns about Internet.org's deleterious effect on the Internet. Here's how the groups summarize their grievances in the letter's introduction:

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. Further, we are deeply concerned thatInternet.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.
It's important to note that these groups aren't merely complaining about Internet.org's effect on net neutrality. Those arguments have already been made, and Zuckerberg has made it clear that he believes access to a limited Internet is better for people in remote areas than no Internet access at all.

Instead, the groups have also focused on Facebook's insistence that anyone seeking to include their service in Internet.org's list of supported websites must not support encryption on their websites. This could allow everyone from lone hackers to intelligence agencies to Facebook itself to intercept people's data.

This means that people using Internet.org aren't just limited to specific sites that Facebook and its telecommunications partners allow onto the service. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, this also makes Internet.org much less free -- idealistically, not financially -- than the Internet we already know:

Even if Facebook were able to figure out a way to support HTTPS proxying on feature phones, its position as Internet gatekeepers remains more broadly troublesome. By setting themselves up as gatekeepers for free access to (portions of) the global Internet, Facebook and its partners have issued an open invitation for governments and special interest groups to lobby, cajole or threaten them to withhold particular content from their service. In other words, Internet.org would be much easier to censor than a true global Internet.
Facebook has addressed concerns about Internet.org's effects on net neutrality. But it hasn't yet responded to these latest complaints, and given that they're centered on individual people's privacy instead of preserving an idealistic version of the Internet, it could be harder for the company to explain this away.

Advocacy groups from around the world aren't backing away from this fight. If anything they're taking it right to Zuckerberg: they published this letter, which harshly criticizes pretty much everything Internet.org is doing, on Facebook.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]