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Mark Zuckerberg defends internet.org at Townhall Q & A in India

by Bharath ChowdaryOctober 29, 2015

Speaking at a town-hall-style meeting in India on Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg sought to explain, and at times defend, Facebook’s plans to expand access to the Internet by offering a stripped-down free version.

During a roughly hour long question-and-answer session at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, Mr. Zuckerberg said Internet.org — which offers a purposely stripped down version of the Internet to minimize data use — had one million members in India and had brought online 15 million people around the world who would otherwise not have Internet access.

Despite the promising, if difficult to verify, statistics, the program has not gone without complaints in India, the world’s largest democracy. Critics argue that by controlling which companies and individuals can offer services on Internet.org, Facebook is creating a walled-off kingdom in which it decides the beneficiaries of its initiative.

Mr. Zuckerberg emphasized that Internet.org was “an open platform that any developer can build something for, regardless of who they are, as long as they follow the basic rules of what Internet.org is.”

To build his case that Facebook is not violating the principles of net neutrality, Mr. Zuckerberg cited recent regulations in Europe and the United States that protected free online offerings like Facebook’s from regulation, even as new rules were passed to ensure that operators do not charge more for certain services.

Internet.org_Logo

It is possible to take net neutrality “too far,” he said, adding: “If there’s a fisherman in the village who now has access to the Internet to sell some of his fish and provide for his family, no one gets hurt by that. That’s good.”

Speaking about petitions that have been passed around the Internet opposing Internet.org or supporting net neutrality, Mr. Zuckerberg said that it was possible for those with access in India to forget about the needs and demands of those without it.

“We all have a moral responsibility to look out for people who don’t have the Internet,” he said. “The people who aren’t on the Internet can’t sign an online petition pushing for more access to the Internet.”

Also taking to the stage for a Townhall Q&A Mark Zuckerberg revealed that Facebook is finally working on a solution to the problem. Zuckerberg had observed that the Candy Crush blight was the most upvoted question in an online thread, so he decided to act.

“I sent a message to the person who runs the team in charge of our developer platform, and I said that by the time I do this Townhall Q&A, it would be good if we had a solution to this problem,” said Zuckerberg. “She emailed me later that night, and said there are some tools — that are kind of outdated — that allow people to send invitations to people who’ve never used a game, and don’t play games on Facebook. We hadn’t prioritized shutting that down, we just had other priorities. But if this is the top thing that people care about, we’ll prioritize that and do it. So we’re doing it!”

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