Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced this week that his company is joining with six others to bring Internet access to developing countries. The group, calling itself Internet.org, plans to make Internet access both more available and more affordable for people and work on projects designed to expand connectivity. Besides Facebook, the other members of the group are Samsung, Qualcomm, Ericsson, Nokia, MediaTek, and Opera Software.
Zuckerberg estimates that only 2.7 billion people, about a third of the global population, have Internet access. Though it would be nice to believe that the CEO is truly interested in helping out people in emerging economies, it’s hard to avoid the fact that the project would undoubtedly benefit Facebook. It’s easy to take the cynical view that the project is just an attempt by Facebook to expand its customer base under the guise of a charitable organization.
That’s not to say that Internet access has no benefits for developing countries; the connectivity and social media in particular have already been seen to help in promoting free speech and communication. However, few people would take Zuckerberg’s view that the lack of Internet access is “one of the greatest challenges of our generation.” The Internet is an incredible tool, yes, but it pales in comparison to the need for food, healthcare, or basic civil rights. Hopefully, Facebook will show that it is interested in more than simply lining its pockets.