Facebook and Internet.org, a subsidiary dedicated to bringing internet access to the world, have been working diligently on their mission in recent months. The stated goal of Internet.org is to bring connectivity to the areas of the world that lack internet, but Facebook’s leadership of the project has caused it to come under scrutiny. Is Facebook really trying to help?
According to Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review’s San Francisco bureau chief, Facebook has been putting its considerable clout behind a detailed mapping initiative. Simonite details how the project works:
Facebook’s maps are made using image-recognition software trained to read satellite images for signs of human habitation and how dense it is. … The resulting information on the patterns and density of development are combined with available census data for different regions to estimate population density. … Creating the maps took billions of satellite images and thousands of computers working for weeks. The social network is asking for feedback before generating maps for other countries where many people have poor or nonexistent access to Internet infrastructure.
This kind of data, which is in higher resolution than any similar maps, could be used to develop a priority plan for internet infrastructure development, and providing Facebook with information it can use to deploy drones and other solutions to deliver internet access. Facebook plans to make the data public, which could have bigger impacts than just delivering internet to isolated areas.
This seems like a clear indication that Facebook and Internet.org don’t just want to bring Facebook to the world. However, Facebook’s ‘Basics’ offerings may be banned in India because of new local net neutrality regulations. Facebook can’t seem to catch a break.
The problem isn’t just about Facebook though; many countries will likely fail to meet the UN’s targets for connectedness by 2020. Sonia Jorge, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, told Cnet:
This report must serve as a wake-up call. If we are serious about achieving universal access by 2020, we need to condense almost 30 years worth of work into the next five years.
Given Facebook’s global reach, huge bank of resources and its focus on new drone, satellite, and laser technology it seems the company is committed to investing in the expansion of the internet. If the company is able to map as diligently as it claims to be doing, it may be able to provide other companies, and governments, with a baseline starting point for success. It looks like Facebook is steadfastly attached to closing the digital divide.
Readers: How do you feel about Facebook’s Internet.org initiative?