Now for something completely different. Empathy is a trait I greatly value. Apparently, it is not being destroyed by Facebook. “In face-to-face connections, you tend to stay with people you’re most familiar with or have most in common with,” said Tracy Alloway, an associate professor of psychology and the lead author of the paper. “But Facebook can break down those boundaries.
On Monday (May 18, 2015), 60 people from digital-rights groups in 28 countries including India, Pakistan and Indonesia have strongly protested against internet.org in an open letter to Facebook’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services. Further, we are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full Internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of Internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs.
We’ve been tracking Facebook’s transition from the desktop to mobile for a while. In 2012 the process was just beginning. But now, with 3/4ths of its revenues coming from mobile, it looks like the transition is complete. The world’s largest social network reported on Wednesday that almost three-quarters of its advertising revenue and most of its 1.44 billion users came from cellphones and other mobile devices in the first quarter of the year.
That Quartz piece sure has legs. Ask Helani Galpaya, a researcher with policy think tank LIRNEasia, who in 2012 came across a curious anomaly while researching “bottom of pyramid” telephone users in Indonesia. When asked questions about the Internet, most of the respondents said they didn’t use it. But when asked about Facebook, most of them said they used it often. “In their minds, the Internet did not exist; only Facebook,” concluded Rohan Samarajiva, LIRNEasia’s head.
Internet.org, Facebook’s effort to give people free Internet (or at least 38 websites and services that do not include Google) was launched earlier this month. This has resulted in a quantum leap in discussions of various aspects of net neutrality, including ones that connect the debate in the rich countries to our reality that is dominated by people who has no access to Internet of any kind. Here is a good example. The critical question is “who is the target user of Internet.
This is a first for us. Our findings on Facebook users > Internet users in some countries that was reported in Quartz has been translated into Arabic and published by Al Jazeera. It’s not like anyone at LIRNEasia reads Arabic, but we were alerted to this by the kind folk at IDRC.
Online edition of The Atlantic has reproduced the piece of Leo Mirani that refers to LIRNEasia’s 2012 findings on Internet being eclipsed by Facebook. Jonathan Zittrain of MIT has posted this article on his Facebook page. And that is the beauty of a good research.
Yesterday, I was the only non-politician on a political debate show on TV known as “Satana” (battle). The topic was the new President’s/government’s 100 Day Program (of which more than one-third has passed). I was not expecting to talk about the taxes imposed on the mobile industry, but right in the middle, one of the “referees” asked me about one of the three (or two, depending on the company size) taxes imposed on the mobile operators. I briefly answered saying it was not a good idea since its retroactive and mobile-specific nature was likely to have the effect of depressing investment that was needed if Sri Lanka is to move to the next stage of connectivity beyond voice. I had taken this position without any serious pushback in other media since shortly after the interim budget was announced.
It’s a tribute of sorts that old findings from research we no longer do gets carried in the UK mainstream media. Millions of Facebook users in developing countries do not realise that they are using the internet, suggesting that, in many people’s minds, the two are one and the same, according to a report by Quartz. In a survey of Indonesians by think tank LIRNEasia in 2012, many of the respondents talked enthusiastically about how much time they spent on Facebook, but said that they did not use the internet. An unrelated survey by Research ICT Africa discovered a similar trend, with the number of respondents saying they used Facebook much higher than those who said they used the internet.
We no longer do quantitative and qualitative research on the demand-side of Internet use (except in Myanmar) but it is indeed gratifying to find work that we did in 2012 being described and even replicated at some cost in 2015. In an attempt to replicate Stork and Galpaya’s observations, Quartz commissioned surveys in Indonesia and Nigeria from Geopoll, a company that contacts respondents across the world using mobile phones. We asked people whether they had used the internet in the prior 30 days. We also asked them if they had used Facebook. Both surveys had 500 respondents each.
This used to be seen as a challenge. Now it’s “same old, same old.” The social network, which makes most of its money by including advertising in the news feeds of its users, said about 69 percent of its advertising revenue came from mobile devices, which have become the most common way people tap into the service. Facebook reported that it had 1.39 billion monthly users worldwide in December, up 3.
The politicians of China, Japan, South Korea and Viet Nam have locked horn over the maritime rights in South China Sea. Simultaneously, the telecoms carriers of these countries have been laying optical fiber cables underneath the same disputed water to connect each other. Dubbed as “Asia Pacific Gateway” or APG, this cable lands at Tanah Merah (Singapore), Kuantan (Malaysia), Songkhla (Thailand), Da Nang (Vietnam), Tseung Kwan O (Hong Kong), Toucheng (Taiwan), Nanhui and Chongming (mainland China), Busan (South Korea), and Shima and Maruyama (Japan). These nine countries had 900 million Internet subscribers in 2013, representing 69% of the 1.3 billion Asian subscribers and 32% of the 2.
Of all the sessions that LIRNEasia people spoke at (eight officially; nine if the one where I was asked to speak on our big data work is included), the zero-rating session had been the most controversial. Understandably, it has drawn the attention of journalists. Helani Galpaya, CEO of LIRNEasia noted that mobile phones have a high penetration across countries in South-East and South Asia, and that there even exist a fair number of low priced data plans. However there are many at the so-called bottom of the pyramid for whom even a low priced data plan is still challenging. Zero rating has helped them come on aboard.
My previous post on Internet v Facebook users elicited a lot of responses. We also went back and relooked at the numbers carefully. The Myanmar census numbers came in (after 30 years?). Some changes were made.
I have always been intrigued by the differences between South and South East Asian countries. We saw this over and over again when we did the Teleuse@BOP surveys. But playing around with some numbers for Facebook users in four South and four SE Asian countries, I was astounded. In all the SE Asian countries, there are more Facebook users than there are Internet users. In the case of Myanmar, the multiple is 4.
Well before zero rating, poor people in Indonesia were telling us how they used Facebook, a few minutes after telling us they were not Internet users. This seemed like a choice they had made. We reported it, and actually made it a part of the argument we used to beat back the misbegotten effort by ETNO and friends to impose sending-party-network-pays on the Internet through WCIT. At that point, no one complained about how wrong it was that the Indonesian poor was not using the full range of knowledge and information available on the web. But now they are.