In case you haven't heard, Mark Zuckerberg has a plan to put millions of cell phones in the hands of poverty-stricken individuals in “developing”1 nations. It sounds great, right? How could there possibly be a catch?
Oh, wait, there is a catch. Access to the Internet would be limited to only a few “key services.” Guess which giant Web service Zuckerberg considers to be “key.”
Bloomberg draws the correct conclusion:
The uncharitable way of looking at Zuckerberg’s charitable endeavor, in other words, is to see it as an effort to permanently entangle Facebook in the lives of the next wave of Internet consumers, and to attract a public subsidy at the same time.
Since what Facebook sells is “eyeballs”2, in some ways Zuckerberg's approach here is not too different from that of a logging baron who seeks a federal subsidy and access to federal land–we've all heard stories like that one for decades. What's different here—the bit that really makes my stomach turn—is the bullshit pretense of philanthropy in Zuckerberg's approach.
- As a politically correct term, “developing” stinks, and is hardly better than “third world.” It presumes that poorer nations in Africa and South America are striving with all of their might to arrive at a future in which Venezeula's Got Talent is the height of culture. After all, that's where “development” has led us. ↩
- Ugh, I can't believe I just wrote that. I've been in the Valley too long. ↩