By Eben Moglen & Mishi Choudhary
Mark Zuckerberg’s carefully scripted, tightly controlled appearance at IIT Delhi – a synthetic “town hall” if ever there was one – showed that Facebook can no longer risk any open discussion of the erstwhile charity, Internet.org, now the confessedly commercial anti-privacy onslaught “Free Basics by Facebook.com.”
Faced with the dawning public recognition that this so-called philanthropy is nothing but an attempt to buy the de-anonymised packets of the Indian poor at a bulk rate, breaking their security in the process of destroying their privacy, Facebook has no alternative but to change the subject.
The first tactic Zuckerberg used, of course, was to shoot the messenger. Those trying to organise against this massive raid on Indian privacy and security for private profit, Zuckerberg announced, are Indians who already have Internet service. They, he implied, are less concerned with the fate of the Indian poor than he is. This is rich, coming from the man who spent more than $30 million buying all the houses surrounding his own Palo Alto, CA home, because he needed more privacy.
Facebook’s second attempted distraction at IIT was to pose the issue as one of taking net neutrality ‘too far’. This is nothing but an appeal to ignorance. Free Basics by Facebook.com offers Indians the right to send all their traffic, tied to their personal identifying data, through Facebook servers, thus allowing Facebook to spy on all the Internet traffic of tens of millions of Indian consumers.
In addition to spying on everything they read, write, search for, shop for and buy, their technical arrangements would also prevent them from making secure, authenticated connections with websites using the HTTPS protocol that all of us non-philanthropised users of the real Internet use to provide assurance that the websites representing themselves as belonging to banks, stores, and service providers we deal with on the Web are actually who they say they are.
So Facebook is declaring that it doesn’t violate the integrity, or ‘neutrality’, of the Net to offer poor people a service that delivers all their personal Internet traffic to a foreign corporate mass surveillance system. It also doesn’t violate the integrity of the Net, they say, to deprive these people of a basic security technology on which all the rest of us rely to avoid being victimized on the Web. It takes network neutrality ‘too far’, they wants us to know, to prohibit them from strip-mining consumers’ privacy and security. This isn’t non-neutral, according to their definition, because they aren’t also requiring the victims to pay them for the privilege.
‘Neutrality’ is obviously a word of gloriously indefinite meaning. That’s why we prefer to speak about ‘network equality’. About the inequality of these arrangements for providing basic Internet access to any society’s poorest citizens, there can be no doubt.
Such a farrago of obfuscation and imperialist fantasy would not have survived five minutes of critical questioning, which is why the event carefully prohibited any real public scrutiny of this self-serving posturing. It is absurd to pretend that any Indian, or any citizen of the world, who understands the technical realities of Facebook’s scam is thereby disqualified by elitist social privilege from acting on behalf of the people Facebook is trying to cheat. But the absurdity of the position doesn’t reduce, by an iota, its offensiveness.
Rudyard Kipling is dead, and we thought that was the end of it. Mark Zuckerberg has acquired a case of the White Man’s Burden. The job of Indian democracy, the pleasure of the Indian people, must now be to help him put it down.
– Eben Moglen is professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, and is the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center. Mishi Choudhary is a lawyer and the Legal Director at Software Freedom Law Center. Views expressed are personal.