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<nettime> Moglen and Choudhary: Fictional internet policy is bad for India, good only for Facebook

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Fictional internet policy is bad for India, good only for Facebook

28 Sep 2015 , 08:26

By Eben Moglen & Mishi Choudhary

Manu Joseph is widely considered to be a particularly accomplished
novelist. As an Internet policy analyst, however, he has trouble telling
fact from fiction.

Writing in the New York Times[1] on 16 September, Mr Joseph -- newly
reborn as an admirer rather than a skeptic of Mark Zuckerberg's altruism
-- hotly defends Mr Zuckerberg's "" scheme. He accuses of
gluttony those of us who think the world's poor deserve the same
security and openness of the Internet as the world's rich. We use all
the broadband in India, Mr Joseph says; therefore we can afford to
condescend to the poor by demanding for them the same Internet we use
and that they, he says, will never be able to afford, unless they get
the shoddy equivalent offered by Zuckerberg.


It was not always thus. Writing in the same newspaper a mere six months
ago, in mid-April, Mr Joseph caustically described[2] the Zuckerberg
scam as it really is: "The goal of is to bring cheap
Internet to all, as long as they use Facebook."


Not just use Facebook, Mr Joseph might have gone on to explain -- in the
sense of live their social lives under its ever-present deep inspection
surveillance -- but also agree to put all their traffic through its
servers. They must surrender their data security (of banking, buying, or
whatever else they do on the Net) because Zuckerberg's "man in the
middle" attack breaks it. They must give up any idea of anonymity or
personal privacy in any of their online life. Zuckerberg's
service -- recently renamed Free Basics[3] -- is a way of bugging the
entire Internet, not just Facebook itself, for hundreds of millions of
users, because that kind of rotten service is all, being poor, we can
"afford" to give them. Mr Joseph knew that in April.


But what a difference six months makes. Reborn as a Facebook-enthusiast
and Zuckerberg-admirer, Mr Joseph now tell us that "the minority of
Indians who consume most of the nation's bandwidth [want] to pass
legislation that would deny free Internet access to the poor." Ghosts,
in Mr Joseph's novels, have been known to do some remarkable things;
apparently now they also write his columns. He should not let them.

Requiring Indian telecommunications network operators to preserve the
integrity of the Net, and the equality of all its users, does not deny
free Internet access to the poor. It would, however, prevent Zuckerberg
from ripping off the Indian poor and calling it charity. We do indeed
think that would be a good thing, as have the nations around the world
(including the Netherlands, Canada and Chile) that have banned the
practice. Needless to say, Mr Joseph does not remind anyone that he used
to think so too.

Zuckerberg's "Free Basics" is a scam against its supposed beneficiaries
for several reasons. First, rather than offering "the Internet," his
service requires its users to route all their traffic to "free websites"
through his servers, where the users' identities are logged so that
their traffic can be paid for by the spy, rather than by them. So the
first actual charge is that the poor will be comprehensively surveilled
by Facebook, losing any shred of personal privacy, while the rich using
the real Internet do not route all their traffic through Facebook.

Second, Zuckerberg destroys the security of his users, the benefited
poor. As announced, Zuckerberg's service prohibited all use of the
secure web protocol HTTPS (the one that lights up the little lock image
on the status bar of your browser). HTTPS, and its authentication
mechanism, are the only reasons that online banking and e-commerce are
safe for consumers. So not only were the Indian poor to lose all chance
of anonymity on the Net with respect to Zuckerberg, but they were also
to abandon any possibility of common safety in the Net.

Naturally, these technical details eluded Mr Joseph, whose newfound
sentimental attachment to has nothing to do with facts. But
ever since the required insecurity of the architecture came
to wide notice late this summer, observers around the world have been
watching the desperate charm offensive of the Facebook crowd.

This has included flying groups of Indian reporters business class to
California at Facebook's expense to hear presentations about the wonders
of Zuckerberg's Schweitzer-like commitment to human welfare. They've
been dancing as hard and as fast as they can, hoping to defuse all
opposition this week, before Prime Minister Modi visits the Facebook
campus. Some of their dancing, apparently, has been done for Mr Joseph,
and it has worked. But they didn't make it to deal time before the
wheels fell off the car.

Facing inevitable exposure of the full-Monty cynicism behind this
"humanitarian" gesture, as the world press and policy communities caught
on, Zuckerberg has resorted to rewriting the script during the premiere.
So Facebook admitted that this is no charity, just a commercial offer to
buy the Indian poor's de-anonymized traffic at a cheap rate. And, to
confuse the issue of his destruction of their security, Zuckerberg
announced also a "technical fix."

Traffic between users and the Facebook middleman will now be encrypted
using HTTPS, and will then be forwarded on to the actual website
provider, semi-securely. All users' supposedly-secure data will exist in
unencrypted form on the Facebook servers (momentarily, we are assured).
But the user will be unable to authenticate the identity of the website
to which the data is then forwarded by the Zuck in the middle, because
HTTPS authentication of the destination is broken.

This half-measure sounds, or is intended by the conman to sound, like
half-security. But it isn't. As any specialist or common sense will tell
you, the chain of a web transaction is no stronger than its weakest
link. No one using "Free Basics" will ever be able to assure herself
that the bank or store or government services website she thinks she's
using is genuine, because the architecture still breaks the
"authentication" pathway between the user and the remote system.

Zuckerberg's greed to absorb the world's web traffic in order to mine
the data of people around the world continues to destroy all security on
the Net for those poor enough to need subsidized Internet service. The
poor deserve the same sanitation, health care, drinking water, primary
and secondary education, and network communications as the rich. It is
the responsibility of society to provide them.

As our organization,, has shown, Indian telecommunications
network operators have made immense super-competitive profits from
mispriced data services in India, made possible in large measure by the
pervasive political corruption indulged in by the prior Congress Party
government. Fair regulatory pricing of telecommunications tariffs in
India would allow the Indian poor access to data service, as they now
have access to mobile telephony, at prices they can afford.

India's first BJP government made that happen, and its second could
provide Indians with an Internet that reflects the world's largest
democracy's commitment to equality and human dignity. It has no need of
the supposedly-humanitarian assistance of a dataminer and conman. Nor do
we need this sudden, surprising outburst of Mr Joseph's ill-informed and
recently-converted condescension.

     Prof. Eben Moglen is the Founding-Director of Software Freedom Law
     Center (also a professor of law and legal history at Columbia
     University) and Mishi Choudhary is the Executive Director at SFLC.IN

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