Advocacy

Activists worry for net freedom as FB launches Internet.org in Pakistan

telenor-internetorg
Rights activists in Pakistan — especially the ones that work in digital area — have voiced severe concerns as Facebook launched it’s controversial Internet.org service in Pakistan in association with Telenor on Thursday. This new service essentially enables hundreds of thousands of smart phone and feature phone users to browse a select few websites for free.

The concerns however, echo the global debate of privacy and net neutrality surrounding Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg’s ambitious Internet.org project. The activists worry that using unencrypted connections, users are vulnerable to data theft and being spied on. They further say that Internet.org deciding which websites to allow for free and which not to gives an unbridled control to the service providers.

Here’s what Nighat Daad, Director of Digital Rights Foundation said:

Mark, we deserve access to the open Internet, not the one facebook is offering in Pakistan. This scheme threatens innovation, free expression and privacy online.
It blocks many of the websites, apps, and services the world loves from being made available on equal terms. Do you realize that Internet.org is a reckless violation of net neutrality? Why it should be YOU or telenor to decide what we browse on Internet? and all while exposing many of us to massive security holes and vulnerabilities?

This fake Internet will also restrict access to local service providers struggling to get a foothold online. A friend beautifully sums up your effort in developing countries ““If Zuckerberg actually cares about helping the world’s poorest in this way, he should use his wealth and influence to boost the initiatives that are already on the ground.”

Instead of helping you are killing the Internet.

I also talked to Sahar Habib Ghazi, Managing Editor of Global Voices, this is what she told:

Facebook’s Internet.org offers limited, vulnerable browsing access to Telenor customers in Pakistan, at no cost. This means that people using the service will not have the open, boundless experience that the Internet is meant to offer. This experience shouldn’t be promoted as free Internet services, if anything it should be called limited, monitored, insecure browsing ability.

The service really is limited, and will likely stay that way. It provides users with access only to certain pre-selected websites and services, subject to the approval of Facebook and the telcos they’re working with. It is easy to imagine the Pakistani government pressuring Facebook to exclude certain types of content from the Internet.org package.

I am also concerned that Telenor users have no idea that there are significant privacy and security flaws inherent in the current iteration of Internet.org. I think it is Telenor’s responsibility to educate its users about the vulnerabilities in this service. Here’s some more information about our concerns from an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, that Global Voices’ Advocacy wing co-signed:

“We are very concerned about the privacy implications of Internet.org.Facebook’s privacy policy does not provide adequate protections for new Internet users, some of whom may not understand how their data will be used, or may not be able to properly give consent for certain practices. Given the lack of statements to the contrary, it is likely Internet.org collects user data via apps and services. There is a lack of transparency about how that data are used by Internet.org and its telco partners.Internet.org also provides only a handful of applications and services, making it easier for governments and malicious actors to surveil user traffic.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted that for feature phones “…traffic must pass through Internet.org’s proxy unencrypted, which means that any information users send or receive from Internet.org’s services could be read by local police or national intelligence agencies and expose its users to harm.”

Inaugurating the service, Telenor Pakistan CEO Michael Foley said ““We are delighted to introduce the Internet.org initiative in Pakistan today with a host of useful online services including health, education, finance, news, information and job portals etc. for our millions of customers nationwide.”

Of those ‘useful’ online services, some are: Accuweather, BBC, BabyCenter &MAMA, Malaria No More, UNICEF Facts for Life, Bing.com, ESPN Cricinfo, Mustakbil, ilmkidunya, Telenor News, Urdupoint Cooking, OLX, Facebook, Messenger, Wikipedia and Telenor WAP MobilePortal.

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