Facebook and Google have both announced incentives to try and get the next “two billion” people online, by offering free internet connectivity in the region.
Internet.org managed to get into countries first, while Google still calibrates Project Loon. Facebook has entered several regions including Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, Philippines and India.
The response has been mixed both by the residents of these countries and those outside, who cannot see Facebook’s surge into these countries being out of the goodness of its heart.
In India, several apps added onto Internet.org were removed, after the owners went against Facebook’s plans. They called the service “anti-net neutrality” due to only allowing a few apps to be free, the others needed payment.
Having these barriers to online connectivity allows Facebook to shape its own world on the internet. The social network gets to pick and choose, and most of the time it isn’t choosing its competitors like Twitter and YouTube to get a free pass on Internet.org.
Even though Facebook uses the argument that it cannot afford to power the entire internet, for decades people have fought to keep the internet neutral - to not have one company decide who is in and who is out - Internet.org goes against all those priniciples.
The worst thing is even though Internet.org currently does not offer advertisements, there will come a time when monetisation pays for the service to continue, taking data from these poor countries and utilising it to serve up adverts.
Google’s chief economist Hal Varian spoke about the concept of poor people getting the products rich people had ten years ago, and how in ten years the poor people in South-East Asia, Africa and South America will be buying connected microwaves, full HD TVs and use virtual assistants.
The last part is what Google is banking on with its Project Loon and SpaceX investment, that poor people will start using its services to generate more revenue, even if Google has to pay local providers to beam the internet onto their phones.
Even though we have known for decades that free services come at the price of personal data, for people in poor countries there is no build up to that happening - it starts as soon as they connect.