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"Facebook’s Web of Tiers"


Facebook recently launched, an initiative designed to give people in developing countries free access to the internet—or rather, to a limited number of websites hand-picked by Facebook. At The Baffler blog, Jacob Silverman exposes this ostensible humanitarian gesture for the old-fashioned business plan that it really it: may dress itself up as a humanitarian effort, but in the end, it is simply a customer-acquisition vehicle for Facebook. Mahesh Murthy, an Indian investor, described the program as “economic racism—exploiting the poor in under-developed parts of the world to become your customers under the guise of some apparent charitable purpose.”

Indeed, Facebook has explicitly stated its hope that customers, happy with their free taste of access, will decide to pony up and pay Facebook’s telecom partners for more. According to Facebook, “aims to give people valuable free services that they can use to discover the entire wealth of online services and, ultimately become paying users of the internet.”

Yet Facebook seems to be doing very little to make sure that those people aren’t then gouged by local providers. This is troubling, especially since the cost of Internet access is one of the barriers that Zuckerberg says he is trying to overcome. (For that matter, we could use some of his help here in the United States, in the land of state-sanctioned telecom monopolies and terrible service.)

Above image via the Baffler blog