Facebook puts noble face on what is really a self-serving walled garden


Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said back in February that he wanted to make basic internet access free in emerging markets, through the Internet.org initiative. Well here we go: Internet.org has introduced an app that will act as a limited portal to the internet, and it’s rolling out first in Zambia.

Facebook’s strategy is to enter a market with little to no existing internet access, make a deal with a large provider to create a large swath of internet coverage. Access is free, but the ecosystem is controlled and extremely limited.

On Thursday Internet.org revealed a partnership with the Zambian subsidiary of Indian telecoms giant Bharti Airtel. Airtel’s customers there will be able to use the Internet.org Android app – or the Internet.org website, or the Facebook for Android app – to access a set of services at zero cost. Facebook and Messenger are in there of course, as are Wikipedia, AccuWeather, Google Search, and a selection of local services such as jobs portals, the women’s rights app WRAPP, and a basic library of Zambian laws.

Facebook, as well as the Zambian government, now control the message. A walled government that is free and easy to maintain. Facebook wins unfettered access to a huge population of new, dedicated customers. Competition is eliminated. Privacy is also eliminated.

Beyond that, the only way out of this walled garden is to pay your way out, which stratifies the internet in the same way as the ISP fast lanes do.