Facebook’s Internet.org has something to say to critics who accuse the organisation of being a commercial venture parading as a humanitarian effort: You’re wrong and we’ve got big-name experts who agree.
Facebook sent us a list of quotes to counter a column by author Evgeny Morozov published in the New York Times over the weekend. Morozov slammed Internet.org, calling it “Facebook’s gateway drug” and “venture humanitarianism.”
In response, Internet.org sent Business Insider the following quotes:
Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State: “The Internet.org app has the potential to connect people in the developing world to the information and services that many of us take for granted. This initiative will help deliver on the promise of the internet for millions of people and, in doing so, help fight poverty, improve health, and drive innovation around the world.”
Michele Barry, Professor of Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine: “Connectivity is a powerful tool for change. The Internet.org app will help to connect people living in low-resource settings to basic information that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. For example, enabling mothers to access basic health information can lead to significant declines in child mortality and better health outcomes for the family. By providing free access to health resources like MAMA and Facts for Life, the Internet.org app will make a real difference in people’s lives.”
Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women: “The new Internet.org app will bring us that much closer to a world where all women — wherever they are from — will have access to the basic information and tools needed to succeed in the 21st century. This technology will empower countless women to make a positive impact on their societies and the world.”
Internet.org is a Facebook-led mission to bring the internet to people who don’t have it, in the form of a free mobile phone app where no data charges apply. The Internet.org app bundles in things like Google search, local news sites, weather, local job sites, and, naturally, Facebook.
Mobile app providers agree not to charge for this app, but Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says they hope to make money by charging data fees on other apps. Meanwhile, Facebook is introduced to new markets where the social network is not yet popular.
It’s not a bad business plan at all. The problem, as we previously reported, is that Zuckerberg isn’t presenting it as a business plan, but as a humanitarian mission to improve life on Earth.
Morozov is worried that as Internet.org takes hold, it could put app developers in a headlock in these emerging markets. Either they add their apps to Facebook’s platform or users ignore their apps because mobile operators will charge data fees on them. And that, he believes, could trap people into joining Facebook to get access to the helpful mobile apps they want, everything from online classes to loan application apps.
For his part, Morozov, author of a couple of books including “To Save Everything, Click” is deeply wary of all initiatives like Internet.org. He calls it an example of “solutionism” which he defines as “the belief that the tech industry could and should solve all of life’s problems” but is really “Silicon Valley’s digital straitjacket.”
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