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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On the Geopolitics of “Platforms”

//Robyn Caplan is one of the ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar discussions.

In the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach…

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The GovLab Selected Curation of Articles on Net-Governance: Issue 78

//The Selected Curation of Articles on Net-governance (the SCAN) is a weekly digest on internet governance news, reports, and events produced by the Governance Lab @NYU (the GovLab) as part of the GovLab’s Living Labs on Smarter Governance project. The SCAN is cross-posted weekly from the GovLab on the Internet Policy Observatory. The original posting of the GovLab SCAN- Issue 78, June 5, 2015 can be found here.

Highlights:

  • A new briefing by Amnesty International and Privacy International lays out a 7-point plan for the post-Snowden revelations era, with recommendations for legal and policy reform, corporate due diligence, and international standards
  • The Paraguayan Senate defeated a mandatory data retention bill that would have compelled local ISPs to retain communications and location details of every user for a period of 12 months
  • Last Sunday night, the provisions of the Patriot Act that allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a bulk data collection program expired. The future of the program will be decided this week by the Senate

Latest Developments

Bogado, David and Katitza Rodriguez. Victory: Turning the Tide Against Online Spying in Paraguay.Electronic Frontier Foundation. June 4, 2015.

  • In this blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation boasts of a recent victory in Paraguay, where the Senate “defeated a mandatory data retention bill that would have compelled local ISPs to retain communications and location details of every user for a period of 12 months.” The bill was introduced last year, and through a coordinated campaign by EFF, TEDIC and Amnesty Paraguay, the Chamber of Deputies unanimously…

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