A global coalition of 67 digital rights groups (including i Freedom Uganda and Indonesia’s ICT Watch) have penned a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns about the the firm’s Internet.org initiative.
The coalition argues in their letter sent on Monday, May 19th that the new initiative threatens freedom of expression, privacy and the basic principles of net neutrality.
Update from Facebook
A Facebook spokesperson contacted ValueWalk Monday afternoon with the following statement:
“We and our critics share a common vision of helping more people gain access to the broadest possible range of experiences and services on the internet. We are convinced that as more and more people gain access to the internet, they will see the benefits and want to use even more services. We believe this so strongly that we have worked with operators to offer basic services to people at no charge, convinced that new users will quickly want to move beyond basic services and pay for more diverse, valuable services.”
Excerpt from letter to Facebook
The letter from the digital rights groups criticizes the Internet.org initiative on three grounds. “It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services,” it states.
“Further, we are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs [internet service providers].
“In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”
One of the requirements for new businesses to join Internet.org is that the websites must not include the HTTPS, TLS or SSL encryption technologies, and this is also causing controversy.
The letter from the digital rights coalition argues this will make users’ web traffic “vulnerable to malicious attacks and government eavesdropping”.
That said, a Q&A recently published on Internet.org’s site promises it will start supporting SSL and TLS “in the Internet.org Android app in the coming weeks”.
Zuckerberg has also posted a message to his Facebook page promising that support for HTTPS is also under development.
Digital rights campaigners are still worried about privacy. “Given the lack of statements to the contrary, it is likely Internet.org collects user data via apps and services,” the letter notes. “There is a lack of transparency about how that data is used by Internet.org and its [telecommunications] partners.”