Law in the Internet Society

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LouisAmorySecondEssay 3 - 01 Feb 2022 - Main.LouisAmory
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Meta attempts to conquer the Global South

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Meta’s evolving strategy to conquer the Global South

 
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This paper discusses Meta’s (formerly Facebook) “Free Basics” initiative. Free Basics was launched in 2012 and is one of the most controversial initiatives undertaken by tech giants in order to (supposedly) increase connectivity in the Global South. Free Basics provides unlimited data to mobile users, but only to access a limited number of websites/apps. These obviously include Meta’s services, such as Facebook and WhatsApp? , but also a few so-called “basic services” such as Google, Wikipedia, health and food prices information.
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4.5 billion people in the world have given up their privacy and freedom in order to access online services at no or low financial cost. This paper focuses on the remaining part of the population, the last 40% of the world who are still not connected to the internet (Statista). In particular, this paper will assess whether Meta’s Free Basics service succeeded in making Facebook and other Meta’s social medias the gateway to the internet in the Global South and warns about new strategies developed by Meta, especially to conquer Sub-Saharan Africa.
 
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I argue that what Mark Zuckerberg presents as a philanthropic project seems to rather be at the backbone of a strategy to impose Meta as the main data-exploiter in the Global South. I will then explore the reasons why Free Basics failed in India and Egypt, which showcase some of Free Basics’ dangers to democracy and freedom.
 
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Almost 10 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg published a White Paper arguing that connectivity to the internet is a basic human right. The 10-pages opinion outlined Facebook’s strategy to connect the at-the-time 5/6th of the world population that did not use Facebook on a monthly basis. To note: connecting people to Facebook is slightly different than a strategy to fulfill a basic human right to an internet connection. In fact, mixing up connection to the internet and connection to Facebook reflects Free Basics core strategy: making the internet and Facebook synonyms in the Global South.
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10 years of Free Basics, a mitigated success

 
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One week after the publication of Zuckerberg’s White Paper, Facebook launched Internet.org (to note that .org is commonly used by non-profit organizations), and in its introductory keynote at the Mobile World Congress of 2014, Zuckerberg presented Free Basics as the main pillar of Internet.org, officially aiming at providing connectivity to everyone.
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Meta’s “Free Basics” initiative was launched in 2012 and is one of the most controversial initiatives undertaken by tech giants in order to (supposedly) increase connectivity in the Global South. Free Basics provides unlimited data to mobile users, but only to access a limited number of websites/apps. These obviously include Meta’s services, such as Facebook and WhatsApp? , but also a few so-called “basic services” such as Google, Wikipedia, health and food prices information.
 
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It is difficult to assess Free Basics’ popularity/success, given that Meta does not publish any data on it. According to the researcher at the Stanford Center for African studies Toussaint Nothias’ own investigations, Free Basics was available in 62 countries as of July 2019, half of them located in Africa. Hence, a fair amount for countries, including the most populated ones such as Nigeria, Sudan, DR of Congo, and Kenya.
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What Zuckerberg presented as a philanthropic project to connect the Global South to the net, seemed rather at the backbone of a strategy to impose Meta as the main data-exploiter in the Global South.
 
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In fact, Mark Zuckerberg seemed to target two specific regions: India and sub-Saharan Africa, where he travelled respectively in 2014 and 2016. These regions have three things in common: (i) a very large and fast-growing population; (ii) a low social media penetration (India had in 2014 a social media penetration of less than 15%, while the Central, West and Eastern African countries are still below 15% today); and the fastest growing economies on the planet (with average GDP growths over the period 2010-2020 of around 4% for Sub-Sharan countries and 5% for India, according to the World Bank).
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It is difficult to accurately assess Free Basics’ popularity/success, given that Meta has not published any recent data on it. According to the researcher at the Stanford Center for African studies Toussaint Nothias’ own investigations, Free Basics was available in 62 countries as of July 2019, half of them located in Africa. Hence, a fair amount for countries, including the most populated ones such as Nigeria, DR of Congo, Kenya and Sudan. It had 60 million extra-users between 2016 and 2018, which is an important amount but relatively small when considering that Facebook has 2600 million users in the world and that Free Basics targeted 3500 million people. Since 2018, Meta has not communicated on the number of Free Basics’ users, which suggests that the program is not as successful as expected. Moreover, telecom companies and commentators (see here and here) say that a number of Free Basics users are not new internet users, but rather use Free Basics once they ran out of data.
 
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These markets are therefore extremely promising regarding today’s most valuable resource on the planet: behavioral data. Even if the yearly revenue by Facebook user is currently more than 15 times higher in the US and Canada than in Africa/India, these regions have an immense potential in terms of demography and economic growth. Instead of willing to promote the basic human right to connectivity, Meta is rather making sure that seize the behaviors of people who will constitute more than half of the humanity by 2050. In fact, Meta recognized this. While negotiating with telecom providers, Meta’s main argument was indeed that giving unlimited access to only a tiny part of the web would trigger greater demand for data allowing to access the entire net, and ultimately increase the mobile data subscribers.
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Free Basics failed in India and Egypt, as well as in Uganda and Zimbabwe. In India, the project failed after a vibrant campaign accusing Meta of violating net neutrality and of digital neo-colonialist. The reasons why Free Basics was banned from Egypt, and withdrawn from Uganda and Zimbabwe, remain a little obscure. Certain analysts point to the possibility that Meta had refused to allow authoritarian governments to surveil Free Basics users or censure contents. Even though this seems to favor democracy and free speech, it shows the role that Meta is trying to acquire: the only and necessary intermediate between the state, the internet and the citizens.
 
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Despite the appealing offer, Free Basics failed in two major countries: India and Egypt. These failures both showcase two major dangers of Free Basics.
 
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The reasons why Free Basics was banned from Egypt remain a little obscure. Most likely, it appears that Meta refused that the authoritarian government to surveil Free Basics users or censure contents. It is reportedly for the same reason that Free Basics was announced but never launched in Uganda and Zimbabwe. Even though these failures appear to favor democracy and free speech, it shows the role that Meta is trying to acquire: the only and necessary intermediate between the state, the internet and the citizens. What is Meta’s legitimacy to decide whether a government is democratic enough to allow citizens to access the net? What are Meta’s standards for tolerating surveillance/censure? Even in the unlikely situation where Meta would be supporting democracy and free speech, to what extent can we make sure that they not compromising on free speech/democratic values/surveillance in return of behavioral data?
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Shift to infrastructure investment

 
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In India, Free Basics faced immense public protest. In a nutshell, Free Basics was accused of compromising the net neutrality as it gives access to only selected websites. In addition, Free Basics was considered by the public opinion as a digital neo-colonialist initiative given that a Western company would decide what is good for poor Indians and what kind of websites they need to access. Despite Zuckerberg’s advocacy published in the Times of India – the country’s main newspaper –, arguing again that Facebook was not making any money out of Free Basics, and despite Facebook’s moto “If the sun is free … If the air is free … Then why shouldn’t the internet be free?”, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India banned the service in 2016 after a public consultation on net neutrality. I can only agree with the authority’s argument that net neutrality would be undermined. In addition, suppose that Meta was allowed to select available websites, on what basis would they do so and what is their legitimacy?
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Learning its lesson from the bitter Indian failure, it seems that Meta (and other tech giants such as Google and Amazon, see here) is recently focusing on investing in infrastructure projects, which are less intrusive on net neutrality than Free Basics. For instance, Meta launched the Express WI-FI initiative, now available in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Senegal and Malawi; fiber optic cables in South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria; Internet Exchange Points across the African continent; and will participate in building 2Africacable, an undersea fiber optic cable surrounding Africa. (see here)
 
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What is capable of stopping Meta, Google, or Chinese companies (Chinese social media are not very present in the Global South, but China is heavily present in African telecom infrastructures, smartphones, recently in facial recognition software, etc.) from providing access to (limited) internet services, build infrastructure (such as the future undersea internet cable financed by China and Meta, 2Africa) and thereby surveilling and exploiting behavioral data, undermining net neutrality, democracy, and free speech.
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Access to the internet begins with infrastructure. Africa lacks the network and where there is one, it is expensive to access it. As a matter of comparison, the European Court of Auditors reported that installing 5G in Europe – which already has an existing infrastructure and is 3 times smaller than Africa – will cost 450 billion US dollars – which represents 1/6th of the African GDP. Will African societies reject such investments in infrastructure because they come from American tech giants? Of course not.
 
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All been there, all done that. This draft spends much too much time on a controversy that was. Zero-rating was, as you say now and as we said then, a simple way of buying up routing access to the packets of the world's poor. As Wikimedia said then, universal free access to Wikipedia reader- and editorship would be uncomfortably transformative for regimes that depend on keeping their masses ignorant.
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That said, for the sake of net neutrality, equality and sovereignty, governments (including Chinese and European ones which should not support American tech giants’ hegemony), investment banks, the international monetary fund, the World Bank, telecom operators, antitrust authorities, and most importantly all civil society actors must make sure that new infrastructure projects are not tied to any of Meta’s (or any other private actor) services, and do not fall under the control of Meta.
 
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But zero-rating neither took over the world nor vanished altogether, and where we are now is here. The best route to improvement seems to me to be to reduce this to 20% of the discussion, using the other 80% on now.
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Even if the use of Meta’s infrastructure is not conditioned to the use of Meta’s services, the more challenging part would be to prevent new internet users from voluntarily use Meta’s services. Even if the access to internet is neutral, Meta’s bet is that connecting people to (more) internet will automatically connect more people to Meta’s social networks/platforms. That bet is likely to succeed, partly helped by internet activists. Indeed, part of Meta’s strategy is to ally with local NGOs and digital activists (see here). In a context of internet shutdowns, lack of privacy laws, censorship and arrests of bloggers by governments, African civil actors primarily focus on freedom vis--vis their government rather than vis--vis private actors such as Meta, which presents itself as an ally of free speech and democracy.
 
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-- By LouisAmory - 08 Dec 2021
You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.

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In the Global South, Meta is thus likely to not only become a monopolistic social media provider and data extractor but will also control the infrastructure, creating complex interactions between (i) Meta, controlling both contents and potentially infrastructure, (ii) authoritarian governments practicing censorship, internet shutdowns and willing to surveil their citizens, and (iii) digital activists who see Meta as a crucial network investor improving free speech and democracy (see here), but also as a clearly self-interested corporate actor, threatening democracy around the world, willing to extract data without restrains and potentially ready to trade that data with authoritarian governments.

LouisAmorySecondEssay 2 - 01 Jan 2022 - Main.EbenMoglen
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META TOPICPARENT name="SecondEssay"
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Meta attempts to conquer the Global South

This paper discusses Meta’s (formerly Facebook) “Free Basics” initiative. Free Basics was launched in 2012 and is one of the most controversial initiatives undertaken by tech giants in order to (supposedly) increase connectivity in the Global South. Free Basics provides unlimited data to mobile users, but only to access a limited number of websites/apps. These obviously include Meta’s services, such as Facebook and WhatsApp? , but also a few so-called “basic services” such as Google, Wikipedia, health and food prices information.

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 What is capable of stopping Meta, Google, or Chinese companies (Chinese social media are not very present in the Global South, but China is heavily present in African telecom infrastructures, smartphones, recently in facial recognition software, etc.) from providing access to (limited) internet services, build infrastructure (such as the future undersea internet cable financed by China and Meta, 2Africa) and thereby surveilling and exploiting behavioral data, undermining net neutrality, democracy, and free speech.
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All been there, all done that. This draft spends much too much time on a controversy that was. Zero-rating was, as you say now and as we said then, a simple way of buying up routing access to the packets of the world's poor. As Wikimedia said then, universal free access to Wikipedia reader- and editorship would be uncomfortably transformative for regimes that depend on keeping their masses ignorant.
 
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-- By LouisAmory - 08 Dec 2021

Section I

Subsection A

Subsub 1

Subsection B

Subsub 1

Subsub 2

Section II

Subsection A

Subsection B

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But zero-rating neither took over the world nor vanished altogether, and where we are now is here. The best route to improvement seems to me to be to reduce this to 20% of the discussion, using the other 80% on now.
 
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-- By LouisAmory - 08 Dec 2021
 
You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

LouisAmorySecondEssay 1 - 08 Dec 2021 - Main.LouisAmory
Line: 1 to 1
Added:
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META TOPICPARENT name="SecondEssay"

Meta attempts to conquer the Global South

This paper discusses Meta’s (formerly Facebook) “Free Basics” initiative. Free Basics was launched in 2012 and is one of the most controversial initiatives undertaken by tech giants in order to (supposedly) increase connectivity in the Global South. Free Basics provides unlimited data to mobile users, but only to access a limited number of websites/apps. These obviously include Meta’s services, such as Facebook and WhatsApp? , but also a few so-called “basic services” such as Google, Wikipedia, health and food prices information.

I argue that what Mark Zuckerberg presents as a philanthropic project seems to rather be at the backbone of a strategy to impose Meta as the main data-exploiter in the Global South. I will then explore the reasons why Free Basics failed in India and Egypt, which showcase some of Free Basics’ dangers to democracy and freedom.

Almost 10 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg published a White Paper arguing that connectivity to the internet is a basic human right. The 10-pages opinion outlined Facebook’s strategy to connect the at-the-time 5/6th of the world population that did not use Facebook on a monthly basis. To note: connecting people to Facebook is slightly different than a strategy to fulfill a basic human right to an internet connection. In fact, mixing up connection to the internet and connection to Facebook reflects Free Basics core strategy: making the internet and Facebook synonyms in the Global South.

One week after the publication of Zuckerberg’s White Paper, Facebook launched Internet.org (to note that .org is commonly used by non-profit organizations), and in its introductory keynote at the Mobile World Congress of 2014, Zuckerberg presented Free Basics as the main pillar of Internet.org, officially aiming at providing connectivity to everyone.

It is difficult to assess Free Basics’ popularity/success, given that Meta does not publish any data on it. According to the researcher at the Stanford Center for African studies Toussaint Nothias’ own investigations, Free Basics was available in 62 countries as of July 2019, half of them located in Africa. Hence, a fair amount for countries, including the most populated ones such as Nigeria, Sudan, DR of Congo, and Kenya.

In fact, Mark Zuckerberg seemed to target two specific regions: India and sub-Saharan Africa, where he travelled respectively in 2014 and 2016. These regions have three things in common: (i) a very large and fast-growing population; (ii) a low social media penetration (India had in 2014 a social media penetration of less than 15%, while the Central, West and Eastern African countries are still below 15% today); and the fastest growing economies on the planet (with average GDP growths over the period 2010-2020 of around 4% for Sub-Sharan countries and 5% for India, according to the World Bank).

These markets are therefore extremely promising regarding today’s most valuable resource on the planet: behavioral data. Even if the yearly revenue by Facebook user is currently more than 15 times higher in the US and Canada than in Africa/India, these regions have an immense potential in terms of demography and economic growth. Instead of willing to promote the basic human right to connectivity, Meta is rather making sure that seize the behaviors of people who will constitute more than half of the humanity by 2050. In fact, Meta recognized this. While negotiating with telecom providers, Meta’s main argument was indeed that giving unlimited access to only a tiny part of the web would trigger greater demand for data allowing to access the entire net, and ultimately increase the mobile data subscribers.

Despite the appealing offer, Free Basics failed in two major countries: India and Egypt. These failures both showcase two major dangers of Free Basics.

The reasons why Free Basics was banned from Egypt remain a little obscure. Most likely, it appears that Meta refused that the authoritarian government to surveil Free Basics users or censure contents. It is reportedly for the same reason that Free Basics was announced but never launched in Uganda and Zimbabwe. Even though these failures appear to favor democracy and free speech, it shows the role that Meta is trying to acquire: the only and necessary intermediate between the state, the internet and the citizens. What is Meta’s legitimacy to decide whether a government is democratic enough to allow citizens to access the net? What are Meta’s standards for tolerating surveillance/censure? Even in the unlikely situation where Meta would be supporting democracy and free speech, to what extent can we make sure that they not compromising on free speech/democratic values/surveillance in return of behavioral data?

In India, Free Basics faced immense public protest. In a nutshell, Free Basics was accused of compromising the net neutrality as it gives access to only selected websites. In addition, Free Basics was considered by the public opinion as a digital neo-colonialist initiative given that a Western company would decide what is good for poor Indians and what kind of websites they need to access. Despite Zuckerberg’s advocacy published in the Times of India – the country’s main newspaper –, arguing again that Facebook was not making any money out of Free Basics, and despite Facebook’s moto “If the sun is free … If the air is free … Then why shouldn’t the internet be free?”, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India banned the service in 2016 after a public consultation on net neutrality. I can only agree with the authority’s argument that net neutrality would be undermined. In addition, suppose that Meta was allowed to select available websites, on what basis would they do so and what is their legitimacy?

What is capable of stopping Meta, Google, or Chinese companies (Chinese social media are not very present in the Global South, but China is heavily present in African telecom infrastructures, smartphones, recently in facial recognition software, etc.) from providing access to (limited) internet services, build infrastructure (such as the future undersea internet cable financed by China and Meta, 2Africa) and thereby surveilling and exploiting behavioral data, undermining net neutrality, democracy, and free speech.

-- By LouisAmory - 08 Dec 2021

Section I

Subsection A

Subsub 1

Subsection B

Subsub 1

Subsub 2

Section II

Subsection A

Subsection B


You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Revision 3r3 - 01 Feb 2022 - 03:45:45 - LouisAmory
Revision 2r2 - 01 Jan 2022 - 16:55:26 - EbenMoglen
Revision 1r1 - 08 Dec 2021 - 03:15:21 - LouisAmory
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