Facebook faces a growing backlash against its free mobile data Internet.org initiative, with 67 digital rights groups signing an open letter to Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg stating their concerns.
The companies argue that the initiative, which aims to deliver affordable internet services to developing countries, infringes on net neutrality and actually widens inequality.
In an open letter posted on Facebook, organisations from across the globe, such as European Digital Rights and the US' Center for Media Justice, said that Internet.org allows access to a limited number of services that Facebook and local internet service providers (ISPs) have approved.
The letter argues that this breaches net neutrality whereby all websites, content services and data traffic are treated equally by ISPs and no one web service should receive priority or an advantage over the other.
Given the limitations of the Internet.org service, the organisations challenging Facebook feel it is both breaching net neutrality and misleading users of the service into thinking they have full access to the internet.
"In its present conception, Internet.org thereby violates the principles of net neutrality, threatening freedom of expression, equality of opportunity, security, privacy and innovation," it said.
The organisations argue that Facebook should offer a service that avoids creating a "walled garden" of selected web services and sites.
The letter also argues that Internet.org risks creating a two-tiered internet, whereby those who cannot afford data charges can only access limited internet services.
While the letter expressed some sympathy for Internet.org's mission to deliver internet access to poorer areas of the world, it said this goal should be reached in a manner that does not discriminate against certain web services while favouring others.
In response to the letter, Facebook told V3 the company's efforts are only focused on ensuring it can get as many people online as possible in order to help people realise the benefits of the web.
“We are convinced that as more and more people gain access to the internet, they will see the benefits and want to use even more services,” the spokesperson said.
“We believe this so strongly that we have worked with operators to offer basic services to people at no charge, convinced that new users will quickly want to move beyond basic services and pay for more diverse, valuable services. “
Facebook has already clashed with India over net neutrality and Internet.org, and will likely encounter opposition in other areas, particularly with the web's founding father Sir Tim Berners-Lee arguing net neutrality must be enshrined across the European Union.
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