Facebook’s free data scheme ‘threatens net neutrality’

Facebook’s free mobile data scheme, Internet.org, has been criticised by digital-rights groups from around the world who say the initiative is unfair and threatens net neutrality.

In an open letter posted to Facebook, 67 groups from countries such as Uganda, Ecuador, and Indonesia stated their concerns about the app, which gives users access to a limited number of online services without incurring any data charges.

The scheme was created alongside partnering mobile carriers in parts of Africa, Asia, and South America to bring some internet access to parts of the world where it was restricted — part of Internet.org’s overall goal of getting the entire planet online.

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Selected services — including Wikipedia, BBC News, Facebook, and some local news providers — would become available via the scheme’s app without any data charge applying.

However, digital-rights groups who signed the letter say the project threatens freedom of expression, privacy, and the principle of net neutrality, which is the idea that all data is treated equally online, because only selected services can take advantage of it.

“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,” the letter states.

“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.”

In a statement, Facebook said: “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.

“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.”

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