The Global Struggle against Free Basics

//CGCS Visiting Scholar Till Waescher explains that India’s recent ban on Facebook’s zero-rating initiative is a huge victory for both domestic and transnational privacy advocates

While many have voiced concerns surrounding Facebook’s Free Basics service’s violation of net neutrality principles, digital rights activists across the world also oppose the service due to privacy concerns. These activists highlight that for impoverished citizens of the ‘Global South’ the data plan is not actually ‘free’ as they pay with their personal data. Although Facebook has pledged to store the data for only 90 days, advocates worry that the company may permanently monitor the Free Basics traffic. A brief look at the debate in India also reveals that the fear of online surveillance was central in the anti-Free Basics movement. For example, Anupam Saraph, a Professor of Systems, Governance and Decision Sciences at the University of Groningen, and an advisor to the World Economic Forum, has called Facebook’s service “more dangerous than the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) Prism Project,” essentially threatening Svarajya, India’s founding narrative of self-rule developed by Gandhi during the struggle for independence.

Critiques of Free Basics being a masked form of ‘digital colonialism’ have accompanied the project from the start—even a major, largely friendly profile in TIME magazine called aspects of Free Basics “distasteful”. (An unfortunate, quickly deleted tweet by board member Marc Andreessen seemed to confirm critics who accused Facebook of having a colonial mentality.) Activists around the world have noted that Free Basics effectively resembles the British Empire and brings in algorithms from the ‘North’ to data-mine the ‘South.’  While the Indian government’s eventual decision to not greenlight Facebook’s initiative was mainly the result of national discourse and activism within India, the international attention the issue received certainly helped. One of the core mechanisms of any form of transnational contention – lifting local or national concerns to the international level[1] – is applied in this case as well. Through globally coordinated efforts, activists and advocates within and outside of India managed to put the Free Basic controversy on the international news agenda.

 

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IGF MANDATE EXTENDED FOR TEN YEARS

Ten more years for the United NationsInternet Governance Forum (IGF): At a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly (GA) on December 16, 2015, the GA adopted an outcome document on the overall review of the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society.

In a specific decision articulated in the document, the GA extended the IGF mandate until 2025. The General Assembly also specified that during this period, the IGF should continue to show progress on working modalities and continue to encourage relevant stakeholders in developing countries to participate in internet governance discussions at the UN level.

UN General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft presided over the meeting, which was attended by high-level representatives from all member and observer states, and…

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Interview with Celia Lerman on Internet Policy in Latin America

//In this interview, Celia Lerman, professor and researcher of Intellectual Property at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella law school, discusses her path to internet governance work and her recent publication on internet policy in Latin America. Lerman reflects on the crucial role of multistakeholderism in the movement for open democracy and the broader issues facing the implementation of a successful model of internet governance. Click here to read the full publication.

How did you first become interested in internet governance and multistakeholderism?

I became interested in internet governance early in my career when I was working as an intellectual property lawyer in Buenos Aires, working with international domain name disputes. The procedures for solving these disputes caught my attention: it seemed so strange to me that the domain name disputes I was working on had to be submitted to a panel based in Geneva and hold the procedure in English, even when both parties were based in Latin America and spoke Spanish as a first language. That sparked my interest in exploring better rules and solutions for Latin American internet users relating to their rights on the Internet.

Soon after I started working in academia in 2011, I participated in my first ICANN meeting as a fellow in Dakar, Senegal, and in the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest organized by American University. Both meetings were incredible windows to internet governance and policy discussions for me.

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