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First POST: Zucked Up

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, April 20 2015

Zucked Up

  • Tackling the rising tide of criticism in India of its "zero rating" policy offering free access to Facebook and a few other sites through select Internet service providers and telcos, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg responded with an oped in the Hindustan Times that he alsoposted on his wall in defense of his Internet.org project. In it, he argues that "universal connectivity and net neutrality can and must coexist," adding "if someone can't afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all." Responding to a handful of comments to his Facebook post, Zuckerberg notes "It's too expensive to make the whole internet free."

  • So far, Indian travel website Cleartrip, the Times of India Group, NDTV and Newshunt have all pulled out of partnering with Facebook on Internet.org, according to this report by SavetheInternet.in in the Hindustan Times. Zero rating is illegal in Chile, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Canada, and regulators in Germany, Austria and Norway say it violates net neutrality.

  • As Mohul Ghosh points out in Trak.in, a website devoted India's tech industry, "If Mark [Zuckerberg] goes back to 2003, when he launched FaceMash in Harvard campus, and the success inspired Facebook.com, he will discover the root of this problem. Assume Harvard only allowed free access to MySpace (which was quite popular at that time),then what would have happened to FaceMash and Facebook? We would still be using MySpace as it was free."

  • On BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow sums it up well: "Mark Zuckerberg's Internet.org project bribes corrupt, non-neutral carriers in poor countries to exempt Facebook and other services of its choosing from their data-caps, giving the world's poorest an Internet that's been radically pruned to a sliver of what the rest of the world gets for free."

  • Some gods of the First World obviously don't understand the difference between free access to the Internet and Internet.org. See for example Virgin CEO Richard Branson, tossing Zuckerberg a softball question about the issue during an online Q&A.

  • Taking a middle position in the debate is Indian entrepreneur Kavin Bharti Mittal, founder and CEO of hike messenger, who argues that due to widespread poverty, "India is consuming the Internet very differently to how the West does."

  • Compare Internet.org to Endless, a new startup that has developed a device that can convert any television into a computer loaded with dozens of free apps and tools, including the Khan Academy and encyclopedias, that work online and offline.

  • Hannah Henderson of BBC.com explains to her readers how someone logged into Facebook will see an entirely different version of the site's UK General Elections topic page, based on what they've clicked in the past and who they follow, as opposed to someone not logged in. She also displays a nifty infographic made by Gilad Lotan of Betaworks mapping the relationships among UK Twitter users by political affiliation. The Liberal Democrats look awfully lonely.

  • Meanwhile, The New York Times has stayed quiet about the report in its own pages last month about its pending deal to publish directly on Facebook, though the editor of the Times magazine, Jake Silverstein, apparently confirmed the report recently, Jeremy Barr reports for Capital NY.

  • When one arm of a journalism business covers what's hot online and another arm sells services to companies seeking to be hot online, problems like the ones J.K. Trotter details for Gawker are almost inevitably going to come up. The business: BuzzFeed.

  • Republican digital strategist Mindy Finn (and PDM friend) has launched "EmpoweredWomen.org" seeking to give voice to "a new generation of right-of-center women." Her goal: to "disrupt() the current political landscape from one that divides women's rights along ideological lines to one that empowers all women." The site's manifesto calls for fair pay for women and decries violence against women, and avoids taking any position on abortion.

  • The role of big, secret money in politics is a rising concern of voters in early 2016 presidential states, reports Matea Gold for the Washington Post.

  • Aimee Rawlins of CNN Money reports on Friday's White House Tech Meetup, which brought together representatives from 50 Tech Meetups from around the country.

  • In Yahoo News, Alex Howard interviews Omidyar Network's Stacy Donohue on the heels of ON's Business of Civic Tech conference at Civic Hall (full disclosure: ON is one of Civic Hall's founding sponsors). Donohue says she thinks "Ben Berkowitz of SeeClickFix is an unsung hero of the civic tech movement," and she also cites Keya Dannenbaum as "a tirelessly impressive entrepreneur in trying to figure out how to make for-profit models work in this space."

  • In the New York Times, technosociologist Zeynep Tufekci argues that the real issue with "the rise of the robots" is not their increasing ability to do human tasks, but whose priorities they will serve.

  • Bloomberg Philanthropies has launched a new $42 million "What Works Cities" initiative aimed to "help mayors and local leaders use data and evidence to engage the public, make government more effective and improve people’s lives." Partners include Results for America, John Hopkins' Center for Government Excellence, Harvard Kennedy School's Government Performance Lab, and the Sunlight Foundation.

  • New Orleans is using data analytics to figure out which residents most need smoke alarms, building on the insight that building fire fatalities almost entirely occur when structures lack such alarms, reports Charles Chieppo for Governing.com. He writes, "What the city found was that nearly 19 percent of homes that were built before 1950 and are inhabited by residents with household incomes below twice the federal poverty level who have lived there since at least 2000 have no alarm."

  • Crowdsourcing live video takes a leap forward today with the launch of Rhinobird.tv, an open source live video platform that is the brainchild of PDM friends Felipe Heusser and Jeff Warren. They'll be streaming coverage of the Boston Marathon from different corners of the race, aggregating live streams from anyone using the hashtag #bostonmarathon. There's no need to install an app; you can go live from any browser that has a camera and microphone.

  • Your moment of zen: "Our mission [sic] to give people the power to experience anything." Zuckerberg on Oculus Rift.

  • If you are wondering what happened to Friday's First POST, the answer is--there wasn't one. I was away at a retreat.