Internet.org: An offer so great that it’s not
I have changed five Internet connections in the course of a year, broadband, mifi, cable net, fibre optic and evo-shevo you name it, each one worse than the other.
It’s as if my workplace is entirely jinxed and we should give up any hopes of ever having a functioning internet connection. A connection so excruciatingly slow that it made me miss the old dial-up days.
Given the horrors I and numerous Internet users in Pakistan suffer from, you can excuse me for being terrified over the launch of internet.org, which, on the face of it, appears to bring you the internet for free, a place where everyone can now connect and explore the big web, an offer so great that in fact it’s not.
Also read: ISP insider: How my search for faster internet in Pakistan drove me up the wall
In reality, internet.org provides you access to limited, ad-filled websites that are chosen by Facebook, it creates a wall garden for users who can’t afford much, where their accessibility is limited and date compromised.
Let me explain this in more detail, the apps available through internet.org provide access to limited websites by surpassing SSL, that in human speak means your messages, photos and all other information is travelling through an open postcard without an envelope and thereby being read by advertisers, facebook, governments and creepers central. Any and all information is easily accessible on the network.
Take a look: The rise of mobile and social media use in Pakistan
Now imagine watching one of your favourite TV series or music video online and each time you click on to view it your Internet slows down considerably.
You log on to Skype, Google Hangout or Jitsi and the minute you hit call, the Internet quality turns so bad that you can hardly speak. Annoyed much?
This is the kind of menace that platforms like internet.org are encouraging, whereby your service provider will now discriminate your accessibility based on the services you are using. It’s already begun, some telecommunications companies have now started charging customers for whatsapp calls, and it’s only a matter of time when your ISPs will start charging you for using services that were otherwise free.
See: Pakistan among 10 worst countries on internet freedom index
Some of us have been using the Internet for several years; we have had our experience with stumbling on different sites, trying and quitting various social networks.
However, the big corporations and governments now want to change all that for the next billion who will come online in the coming decade. They want to shape access for those who can’t afford it as well as those who can.
It wasn’t enough that the corporations and the governments were in cahoots, using our data to make profit or justifying their greed for total control; now they also want discriminate further by fracturing the way we will connect and communicate.
Sana Saleem is the co-founder of Bolo Bhi & Stories Beyond Borders.
She's on the board of advisory for Courage Foundation, Edward Snowden's legal defence fund.