After Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a coalition with several other major tech companies to bring the Internet to areas of the globe that remain disconnected, the tech world reacted with a mix of criticism, mockery, doubt and praise.
In the initiative, called Internet.org, Facebook is joined by Samsung, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Nokia, Opera, and MediaTek. Naturally, these companies' business interests have led many to approach their new collective altruistic effort skeptically.
ValleyWag, the site that Gawker Media recently re-launched to report and comment on issues relating specifically to Silicon Valley, blasted Zuckerberg and Facebook for a "faux humanitarian" effort to mask "a piece of cynical Facebook marketing." Calling it a "long con," Gawker's Sam Biddle doubted whether the plan would accomplish Facebook's business goals if it is successful.
"But if Zuckerberg's efforts mean more of the developing world has access to the internet and the economic benefits that entails, then great Internet.org doesn't plan missionary squads threatening Facebook sign-ups or death by firing squad," Biddle wrote. "Eventually they'll become tired of Facebook and start using Snapchat, just like the rest of us."
Chris O'Brien at the Los Angeles Times was just as doubtful, but pointed instead to the priorities Zuckerberg laid out in the Internet.org announcement.
"It's an ambitious idea. But it's likely to fall well short of its goals for the simple reason that it fails to recognize the complexity of reasons that people don't use the Internet," O'Brien wrote.
Citing several studies on Internet usage in under-developed markets, O'Brien says the "build-it-and-they-will-come" approach to the Internet doesn't account for a lack of equipment, money for equipment, and basic computer knowledge among people in these demographics, as a report released this June by the U.S. Department of Commerce had found.
"The problem is that once you turn the lens to these other issues, you've got to tackle some even more fundamental problems that may well feel overwhelming. Class, race, education," O'Brien wrote. "Is it reasonable to think Internet.org should [be] required to take on such weighty problems? Well, if this plan is going to have the intended impact, it can't afford to ignore these social and economic issues."
Engadget's Richard Lawler provided one of the more detailed analyses on the practicalities of the plan, specifically the prospect of making mobile apps more data-efficient. Zuckerberg says the high cost of data is one of the biggest barriers to adoption in developing markets, and admitted that Facebook's own app could improve in this area. As part of the plan, Facebook plans to reduce the data usage of its mobile app, which reached an average of 12MB per day earlier this year, to about 1MB per day. Lawler points out that Facebook could also limit the amount of data-intensive processes on mobile phones by restricting the amount of photos some users can upload or enabling users to download content from their friends' devices with services like WiFi Direct.
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