If you’ve been online within the past year, which we know you are right now, you’ve probably noticed that Facebook is connected to, well, just about everything. We can’t help but wondering what else Facebook will expand its reach to.
You Can’t Escape It
There are very few ways to get online without being inundated with requests from Facebook. Download an app on your smartphone and you’ll likely be prompted to login through your Facebook account. Facebook even owns two of the most downloaded apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, and is connected to dating services like Tinder.
In terms of online advertising, the network earned an estimated $3.2 billion in revenue last year. They’ve even begun offering to host publishers’ pages on the social media site to cut out the middleman. Facebook has also successfully fended off competition from Google+ and recently ended its partnership with Bing in order to design it’s own search engine.
In addition, they’ve been steadily working on introducing Facebook into different forms of online media through Facebook Messenger and Facebook Video, an alternative to YouTube. The company acquired platform developer Parse and is even working on virtual reality with the Oculus Rift.
Internet.org and Net Neutrality
One of the biggest concerns arising recently is the introduction of Facebook’s Internet.org initiative. The program, designed to bring Internet access to citizens around the world, has been met with serious backlash in recent weeks over claims of violating net neutrality rules.
The main complaint is, while Facebook might be delivering the Internet to areas that otherwise wouldn’t have it, all of the traffic will be routed through the company’s servers. Normally, web traffic is routed through local or national telecommunications networks regulated by laws that protect net neutrality.
Internet.org is what’s known as a “Zero Rating” service in which users can surf a group of sites for free because the sites pay the operator for the bandwidth. It’s a way to ensure users visit their sites instead of the competition. Essentially, users of Internet.org will only be able to view sites approved, and likely owned, by Facebook or its partners.
Net neutrality requires equal and open access to all sites. Competitors like Mozilla say Internet.org will stifle competition and prevent technological innovation in areas without any other access to the Internet. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is arguing giving these areas some connectivity, even if it’s not entirely open, is better than them having no access at all.
Facebook also won’t allow sites to use security protocols like SSL or TLS and has been reticent when asked to provide details on its policies for Internet.org, including how user data is maintained and protected and well as who its partners are.
Does the Good Outweigh the Bad?
While there are probably few who would argue getting Internet access to more people is a bad thing, the question is do the ends justify the means? Is an Internet with only minimal access to sites controlled by Facebook better than no Internet at all? Critics worry it might impact other companies’ ability to expand the Internet further into these territories, effectively hampering locals’ Internet access down the road rather than expanding it.
Net Neutrality laws have been effective in preventing Facebook from completely dominating the landscape here in the U.S., but they might not be as effective in doing so in third-world countries where it’s harder to regulate them. So, this might be one area where its time for people to put their foot down and demand Facebook loosens the reigns.
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