will ‘wall in’ impoverished web users in two-tier system

19 May 2015

In an open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, internet advocacy groups from 31 countries said Facebook’s project is a challenge to net neutrality and freedom of expression.

While the company’s intentions are to give the world free internet access anywhere on the globe with the aid of broadband-beaming drones, the company has already launched the service to a select few countries and regions with, it’s safe to say, mixed reactions.

The service, which was launched in India on the Reliance mobile network, was met with much criticism by companies that had signed up to be a part of the service and felt that the promotion of some services ahead of others being at the whim of the social network was a major challenge to net neutrality.

Keeping poor in a ‘walled garden’ of internet

However, now the criticism has spread across the globe, from India to Uganda and Iceland to Colombia, following the publication of an open letter on Facebook signed by a 31-nation coalition discussing its fears over the “implications for the open internet around the world”.

Its biggest concern relates to the potential of whether this free internet will in fact create a two-tiered internet with the world’s poorest people being kept in a “walled garden” with companies, including Facebook, deciding what they can and cannot see.

“In its present conception,” the letter says, “ thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation.”

Major security issues with 4 May update

The free access to limited services – otherwise known as zero-rating – is currently banned in a number of countries, including the Netherlands, Canada and Chile, due to it being seen as a discriminatory practice.

Despite Zuckerberg giving a public message on 4 May discussing changes to with regard to net neutrality, one update that was initiated has raised serious issues given that it will now prohibit the use of TLS (Transport Layer Security), Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or HTTPS encryption by participating services, leaving it open to attack.

The letter concluded: “We urge Facebook to assert its support for a true definition of net neutrality in which all applications and services are treated equally and without discrimination — especially in the majority world, where the next three billion internet users are coming online — and to address the significant privacy and security flaws inherent in the current iteration of”

Mark Zuckerberg illustration via Charis Tsevis/Flickr


Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic