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Internet.org: Altruistic, Or the Ultimate In Cynicism? 174

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the something-like-that dept.
Nerval's Lobster writes with one take on an effort to "make Internet access available to the two-thirds of the world who are not yet connected": "In conjunction with a variety of partners (including Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung), Facebook is launching Internet.org, which will try to make Internet access more affordable to more people. The partnership will also work on ways to lower the amount of data necessary to power most apps and Internet experiences, which could help people in areas with poor connectivity access online services, and devise incentives for businesses and manufacturers to offer customers more affordable access. Why would Facebook and its partners want to connect another 5 billion people to the Internet? Sure, there are altruistic reasons — people online can access information that will improve or even save their lives. But for Facebook, more people online equals more ad revenue, which equals more profit. Social networking in the developed world is reaching a saturation point, with a significant percentage of the population already on one (or more) social networks; only by expanding into developing nations can Facebook and its ilk maintain the growth rates that Wall Street demands. In a similar vein, building devices and services accessible via weaker Internet connections would open up a whole new customer base for the app developers and manufacturers of the world. In theory, Internet.org plans on enlisting a variety of nonprofits and 'experts' to help in its effort; but the initial announcement only lists for-profit companies among its constituency. NGOs, academics and the aforementioned experts will apparently arrive 'over time.' So is this effort really charitable, or a cynical attempt to break into new markets?"
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Internet.org: Altruistic, Or the Ultimate In Cynicism?

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  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Wednesday August 21, 2013 @10:16AM (#44630465)

    As much as I hate to admit it, for once Bill Gates is right. People who lack enough decent food or sanitation, and suffer from chronic diseases and lack of even the most rudimentary health care, have things they need more than the Internet.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 21, 2013 @10:20AM (#44630521)

      The difference is the motivation to provide 'aid'. Gates want to help people stay alive and facebook wants more users.

      • The difference is the motivation to provide 'aid'. Gates want to help people stay alive and facebook wants more users.

        If people's lives are improved, the motivation doesn't matter. If anything, selfish motivations are better because they are more scalable and sustainable.

        • by kermidge (2221646)

          "If anything, selfish motivations are better...."
          Because also they can be easily transparent, thus easier of trust.

          The summary asks, "So is this effort really charitable, or a cynical attempt to break into new markets?"
          My immediate response is, "Yes."

          For instance, Internet access implies electricity; if there's extra, then likely refrigeration, thus insulin and vaccines; if enough refrigeration, then cold beer, too.

          In my experience trying to divide some things into either-or is often not a fruitful path. O

    • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Wednesday August 21, 2013 @10:23AM (#44630561)

      As much as I hate to admit it, for once Bill Gates is right. People who lack enough decent food or sanitation, and suffer from chronic diseases and lack of even the most rudimentary health care, have things they need more than the Internet.

      Except those basics are often unavailable because of a lack of good government, and good government almost never happens without an informed population.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tnk1 (899206)

        You could correct that with plain old newspapers and one room schoolhouses, however. You don't need the Internet to generate a population that understands the need for good government. Indeed, you need to mainly be literate already in order to get much out of the Internet to begin with.

        I'm not suggesting that they stop with what they are doing, but many times these programs spend a lot of money on something, but the maintenance costs are high, or the locals don't have the skills to maintain it themselves.

        • You could correct that with plain old newspapers and one room schoolhouses

          Except that the newspapers are censored and the schoolhouses are run by the government.

          You don't need the Internet to generate a population that understands the need for good government.

          You don't need the internet to understand the need, but you do need people-to-people communication to make it happen. Cellphones have had an enormous effect in Africa, both economically and politically. They allow common people to bypass government controlled cartels, banks, and media. They also allow citizens to hang around polling places and immediately upload photos of anyone intimidating voters or tampering with t

          • by tnk1 (899206)

            I'm not sure how the Internet is going to save you if the government is that determined to maintain control. Yes, it has had an effect in places where access cropped up before the dictators knew what was happening, but if they're watching the news, they know the danger it represents.

            And again, I am sure it can all have a positive effect, and I am not discounting the potential, but I don't know that it is the most efficient way of getting the job done. If your problem is that the government may control thi

            • by jonbryce (703250)

              Well lets look at it a different way. The internet is heavily controlled in China, so it doesn't help with democracy. However people can make things and put them up for sale on Alibaba and E-bay, and that improves their standard of living in a way that wouldn't be possible without the internet.

              • Well lets look at it a different way. The internet is heavily controlled in China, so it doesn't help with democracy.

                It hasn't helped yet. China's economy has grown by better than 10% annually for more than 30 years. That is better than any other country has ever accomplished. The government would not be voted out with a record like that. The test of democracy in China will come with the first big economic downturn. That will likely happen sometime in the next ten years.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          And providing access to the internet might have unintended consequences. Notice how the internet is turning the first world into nations of drooling idiots. Do we want the same thing to happen to the third world as well?

          The internet is NOT giving us better information than we used to have, it is actually helping to isolate people into echo chambers. We actually hear about a tornado on the other side of the country in minutes if there are some good pictures of it, but we may never hear about corruption at

      • by msauve (701917)
        If food, sanitation, and health care are unavailable because of a lack of good government, what makes you think Internet access would be any different (especially since, as you imply, it would be used to undermine the existing government)?
        • If food, sanitation, and health care are unavailable because of a lack of good government, what makes you think Internet access would be any different?

          Reality. There is plenty of data available. Food aid is negatively correlated with future hunger and poor economic growth. It depresses local food prices, discourages investment in agriculture, and strengthens the authority of centralized and corrupt governments. Internet and cellphone access is strongly correlated with economic progress and government reform.

          Even health care aid often does less good that many realize. Vaccinations are very cost effective. Other health care aid, not so much. When cha

    • As much as I hate to admit it, for once Bill Gates is right. People who lack enough decent food or sanitation, and suffer from chronic diseases and lack of even the most rudimentary health care, have things they need more than the Internet.

      They can both exist. Bill Gates can push the bare essentials and, Facebook and Google will try to get the folk connected.

      • by jythie (914043)
        Yeah, people tend to forget that this is not a zero sum game, and multiple problems can be worked on at once.

        I also suspect that in the first world we find it easier to relate to 'no food' then to 'no communication', so many people latch onto that problem. We have all been hungry off and on, we have all been sick off and on, and we can picture more extreme versions. However mass communication is so utterly embedded in our culture that we do not even think about it, and we pretty much never exist without
        • We have all been hungry off and on, we have all been sick off and on, and we can picture more extreme versions.

          No, I don't think we really picture more extreme versions. I've never gone more than a day without eating, have you? Hungry is a long way from starving, or being chronically malnourished, or worrying that you will go hungry if the next harvest fails. Unless you have cancer, sick probably means a bad flu. You'll get better. Untreated malaria or hookworm are different - they're chronically debilitating diseases that often start young and return periodically. They often keep people from working, so they can't

          • by jythie (914043)
            Actually, I have gone for more then a day without eating, but you make a good point. Though even if we can not accurately picture more extreme versions, we generally _think_ we can. From a few thousand miles away and through the lens of public policy, fundraising, or forum rants, that is close enough.

            And agreed, getting people to believe and use it is also one of the problems in the chain of bork, and should not be underestimated.

            Plenty of problems to go around ^_^
    • by 1s44c (552956)

      As much as I hate to admit it, for once Bill Gates is right. People who lack enough decent food or sanitation, and suffer from chronic diseases and lack of even the most rudimentary health care, have things they need more than the Internet.

      Where do you start to improve things? All the aid given to Africa has achieved alarmingly little. If these people have access to information they are much more capable of improving their situation long term than if they had a bag of rice instead.

    • No he isn't. As an economist in one African country said: the mobile phone companies have had a bigger positive impact on the economy and well-being of the people than any governmental or NGO-led programme. Mobile phones are not the same thing as Internet, I know, but in the end they both offer what those people need: information and a means of communicating. This has helped them with things like emergency response, information and education (for example: on basic sanitation and issues around drinking wa
      • Can you cite any information or articles about that? Seriously, I have an open mind on this issue.

        • A quick search will turn up various articles. Here's one [cigilibrary.org], citing other interesting reading material.
        • Gapminder.Org [gapminder.org] is a GREAT site for seeing how things have improved for the entire world's population over the past 200 years. Dozens if not hundreds of variables are available for plotting. If you let the default graph of life expectancy over income per person play out, you'll see that every country has seen vast improvements over that span.

          The Sub-Saharan African countries in particular didn't really see much improvement until the end of WWII, but since then the average life expectancy has gone from aroun

      • by mjwalshe (1680392)
        Many people do live like that and not just in Africa, South America has massive problems with access to clean water there are plenty of places in the world where only 20% of kids make it too their 5th birthday!
        • there are plenty of places in the world where only 20% of kids make it too their 5th birthday!

          No there isn't. If you look at infant mortality by country [wikipedia.org], you will see that even in the worst places the rate is around 10%, not the 80% that you claim.

          • by mjwalshe (1680392)
            Oops I got the figure assback wards ie 20 % die before they are 5 That is for mortality in the first year not up to age 5 well which is what Oxfam thinks (i was involved in some campaigns for them)
    • by bmo (77928)

      It's not an either/or proposition, bunky.

      --
      BMO

    • by ultranova (717540)

      People who lack enough decent food or sanitation, and suffer from chronic diseases and lack of even the most rudimentary health care, have things they need more than the Internet.

      But they still also need the Internet, not only because it contains information on disease treatment and sanitation but also because communication infrastructure makes it far easier to build other infrastructure and get out of poverty. You don't need more than an Internet connection to start offering services world-wide nowadays,

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      How are the poor starving children in third world slums supposed to get food if they can't order it online? They also need to use Wikipedia to find out if the ulcerated sores on their feet are due to lack of nutrition or a parasitic infection. There are also good DIY guides online about how to build your own sewage system. And just think of all the awesome kitten videos they will be posting!

    • by jon3k (691256)
      I don't see why it can't be both? If you provide them with access to the internet they can learn about how to sanitize water or help grow food. absolutely we should do whatever we can to help bootstrap them and get them going, but if we just continue to give them shit forever how will they ever advance? teach a man to fish, you know the addge.
  • Evil Corporations! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's a common fallacy that anything a corporation does that is profitable is necessarily evil. Corporations have no sense of ethics - their actions can have good or bad results, but they don't act with the intention of being good or evil.

    If Facebook starts providing free Internet access to Bumblefuck Nowhere and makes ad profit, but the Internet access is unrestricted and can be used for anything, that's a win-win situation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by alexander_686 (957440)

      Mod parent up, and to quote the summary:

      So is this effort really charitable, or a cynical attempt to break into new markets?

      Why can’t it be both? If the past 50 years have taught us anything, it is that Adam Smith’s invisible hand of bottom up price signals are far better than a altruistic top down approach. (And if somebody accuse me of being a evil Liberation I will point out that is a different argument – different level and types of regulations will affect the market and price signals and the society you get. As the OP said, if the internet provided is free and unres

      • by jythie (914043)
        Well, actually what we have learned over the last 50 years is you have to balance top down and bottom up, and either of them being too dominant fails. They both have their place and work best when the other is also in play.
    • Partly right. Corporations have no sense of ethics, but they are selfish. On the other hand, that doesn't mean that they can't act beneficial (the whole market theory revolves around egoistic entities finding the price points where everyone benefits the most)

      So charitable actions are not evil, but usually geared towards raising profits as a side effect (as facebook here or MS getting kindergarden kids hooked on MS Office) or geared to increase the organisations reputation.

      And in a wider sense, even the most

    • It's a common fallacy that anything a corporation does that is profitable is necessarily evil.

      You're attacking a straw man. Nobody said this was evil, or that it would be harmful to the worlds poor. At most they said it won't help the poor, and the claim that it will is a misleading way to describe market expansion.

  • by gapagos (1264716) on Wednesday August 21, 2013 @10:19AM (#44630503)

    Facebook has always been the NSA's wet dream. Of course they'd love to have the entire planet hooked on it. Third world countries with no Internet access are insignificant to online-based advertising since they most likely have no disposable income or access to good distribution channels to buy the advertised products & services. On the other hand, these people live where intelligence gathering is more challenging and more valuable. So I'm convinced it's actually more about security interests, not commercial ones.

  • by stewsters (1406737) on Wednesday August 21, 2013 @10:23AM (#44630557)
    If you teach a kid to fish, he can eat cholera infested fish for the day. If you teach a kid to program, he can get himself a sub-minimum wage outsourced job from the other side of the world and still make more than his entire village.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Then he can buy the infested fish for the day.

      Problem solved?

    • You get cholera from a contaminated water supply. You can get some nasty parasites and toxins from fish though. It's best to drink clean water and avoid fish with two heads.

  • The partnership will also work on ways to lower the amount of data necessary to power most apps and Internet experiences

    Really? So no more jQuery, no more Javascript libraries of which only 5% of the functions are used? No more 100KB+ JPEG photos and no more bloated HTML code?

    Call me cynical but these days it's almost a miracle to find a web page which totals less than 100KB.

    • It's finally the year of WAP [wikipedia.org].
    • by loufoque (1400831)

      Most pictures don't even fit in 100kB.

    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      And people want to know why I roll my own functions.

      (Technically I do it because I'm learning a little bit at a time and want to understand how things work. Probably a hold over from Word vs Word Perfect or the 'Frontpage' days where a WP document had 'Reveal Codes' and I could make sure I didn't have 10 font changes that happened before the final font change. Before I was on computers, I used a typesetting machine where there wasn't a WYSIWYG interface; it was _all_ codes. So keeping the document clean was

  • Just think of the possibilities if these folks had access to vast areas of human knowledge, including engineering, medicine, philosophy, resource management... but they'd probably watch cat videos.
  • I firmly believe that internet access is a human right, in many places sought out before running water. Its potential enable mass communication, and information sharing is unparallel.

    The problems with mass internet in the last 5-7 years have been the efforts to restrict it. Blocking server traffic, locking down phone and tablet OSs, and strictly screening the software that one gets to use on a new computer platform. The attempt is to lock it into an infotainmaint platform strictly regulated by a handful of
  • by loufoque (1400831) on Wednesday August 21, 2013 @10:31AM (#44630663)

    Surely that's a joke?
    Facebook is the web application that consumes the most bandwidth, CPU power and RAM ever devised.

  • Look at the populations without internet access - they're also in the population of the world that actually has to worry about starving to death, about persistent government corruption, filled with often violent superstitions and beliefs, lack of access to either medical supplies or trained medical care, completely unaware of farming or grazing techniques that were in use in the 15'th century or living literally, on piles of garbage.

    You're really going to worry that these folks will potentially be uplifted

  • "The partnership will also work on ways to lower the amount of data necessary to power most apps and Internet experiences..."

    IOW, they want a larger base of people who have fewer rights and who can't easily sue, upon which to experiment with more sophisticated tracking methods. Getting an identifying code from your phone shouldn't be too hard, after all - linking that to the facebook account logged into with the phone allows facebook to then link to what ever other sites you visit (again with your phone s

  • Interesting contrast between Facebook and Google here - Facebook wants to organize all these companies and NGOs (each of which will have an agenda), where Google says (with Project Loon, http://www.google.com/loon/ [google.com]), let's just get them access and not try to overprescribe how it evolves or what they do with it - continuing with their "a rising tide lifts all boats", abundance mentality.
  • "So is this effort really charitable, or a cynical attempt to break into new markets?"

    Are the Salvation Army's thrift stores really charitable, or a cynical attempt to fund proselytizing of their particular version of Christianity?

  • Produce TVs instead of fridges. Who cares if they can eat, as long as we can tell them what to think!

  • would this be best done by a bunch of guys driving out and building a MESH or by flying a C-5 galaxy with a Mobile Com station (and a couple companies of "civilian contractors" to help guard the stuff) out to key locations??

  • After he distributes the rings to nokia, qualcomm, samsung et al, he will keep the one that will make him invisible for the NSA.
  • Stop Nepalese soldiers from pooping in the rivers in Haiti first.

    50% of all the deaths on the planet are attributable to dirty water. Fix that first.

  • You can trust that these companies have a profit motive to bring electricity & internet out there, so you can understand their path. It clearly has parallels to altruistic behavior for now, so lets enjoy those parallels while we know why they exist (because we understand their mindset).

  • Having self-serving motives is not cynical. Suspecting people of having self-serving motives is cynical.

The flow chart is a most thoroughly oversold piece of program documentation. -- Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man Month"

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