The Internet.org initiative and the real meaning for health tech

Internet.org — Every one of us. Everywhere. Connected.

click to enlargeMuch has been made of the Internet.org alliance (release). The mission is to bring internet access to the two-thirds of the world who supposedly have none. It is led, very clearly, by Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. Judging from both the website and the release, partners Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia (handset sale to Microsoft, see below), Opera (browser), Qualcomm and Samsung, no minor players, clearly take a secondary role.  The reason given is that internet access is growing at only 9 percent/year. Immediately the D3H tea-leaf readers were all over one seemingly offhand remark made by Mr. Zuckerberg to CNN (Eye emphasis):

“Here, we use Facebook to share news and catch up with our friends but there they are going to use it to decide what kind of government they want, get access to healthcare for the first time ever, connect with family hundreds of miles away they haven’t seen for decades. Getting access to the internet is a really big deal. I think we are going to be able to do it”

Really? The Gimlet Eye thought that mobile phone connectivity and simple apps on inexpensive phones were already spreading healthcare, banking and simple communications to people all over the world. Gosh, was the Eye blind on this?

Looking inside the Gift Horse’s Mouth, and examining cui bono, what may be really behind this seemingly altruistic effort could be…only business.

  • Facebook’s dizzying expansion has peaked and is probably receding. Teens no longer think Facebook is cool (Pew Research cited by CNN) and are tired of feeding the beast.
  • The Guardian also reported this past spring (via Business Insider) that FB visitors are way down (1st Q 2013) especially in developed markets, with privacy concerns widely cited. Facebook no longer is the go-to site for social. Other sites such as Instagram (also owned by FB), Tumblr (Yahoo), YouTube (Google), Snapchat (independent), Twitter and other more private/local sharing sites have become the anti-Facebook.
  • Reinforcing the non-hipness of the site, the average age of Facebook users is trending upwards. While Mummy and Daddy may be hooked (to check up on the kids, photos, groups), they also are spending overall less time, moving to sites like Pinterest, and in some cases, leaving. (Editor Donna finds that recent ‘improvements’ are designed to capture information and the navigation has become a complete pain. No ease of use, no use. Twitter…now that’s easy.)
  • Facebook’s real value is in mining user data and that doesn’t resonate well with privacy concerns. Anyone with a brain figured that out long ago; many also suspect that their privacy settings are never…quite…set and the cool techies ankled a long while ago. (If the FT is concerned about health app data being mined, just think about your comments and photos on Facebook!)
  • Facebook’s gains are in less developed markets like Latin America. (In Asia, losing in Japan, blocked in the Big Kahuna of China.)

So global internet expansion into lightly developed countries is good–nay, necessary–for Facebook as well as its partners.

Samsung and Qualcomm are not exactly slouches in global spread of their phones and systems, au contraire. The Eye squints and asks why they are on this omnibus clearly not driven by them. One wonders why there is not a more equal representation, nor a leader whose last name is not Zuckerberg in order to separate the initiative from the above self-serving concerns. Perhaps this is just fine with them.

(Our readers are well aware by now that Nokia has sold its handset business to Microsoft and licensed out many of their patents, along with returning its CEO to Redmond, in a repositioning that has puzzled many. This makes Microsoft a Big Mobile player with Windows Phone and possibly weds all others to Android, though with Nokia continuing to license it leaves the door open to other mobile companies. Will Microsoft join this initiative as a result? It may depend on whether the former Nokia CEO, Canadian Stephen Elop, becomes the Microsoft CEO as rumored.)

This ‘vision’ contains a strong flavor of ‘beat Google’ into the world…an air of Silicon Valley politics and one-upmanship. This includes the social aspect.

Mr. Zuckerberg is clearly Eyeing using his fortune to influence US and world social issues, including healthcare, and taking every opportunity to position himself as a leader. He is one of several funders of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, an annual award given to researchers whose work is “aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” In education, he donated with an Oprah-approved splash $100 million to fix the state-controlled (due to decades of mismanagement) Newark NJ schools , which some suspect was to add luster to the “rock star” but ineffective mayor of the city (results of funding unknown to date; the mayor is now a US Senate candidate) and the presidential ambitions of one rather Raymond Burr-esque (but much louder) NJ governor. On social issues, Mr. Zuckerberg also leads a Silicon Valley group (FWD.us) to influence ‘immigration reform’ (which some suspect will enable more foreign nationals to obtain tech jobs when real USA unemployment is 14 percent). This PAC has liberally donated to ‘reformers’ in both parties, and also funds local initiatives. (CNN.com)

So we will see if this 1) works beyond the narrow aims of Mr. Zuckerberg, 2) cui bono in reality, 3) when will all this wonderfulness commence and 4) which company will be the first off the bus.

And how it will help healthcare technology’s spread except down the line as the paint dries…the Eye squints to discern.

The Gimlet Eye has spied these related articles:

Mobile World Live:  Zuckerberg’s health hints, Operators central to Zuckerberg’s Internet.org

New York TimesFacebook Leads an Effort to Lower Barriers to Internet Access

ReutersMicrosoft swallows Nokia’s handset business for $7.2 billion

CNN5 ways Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wields his clout

TechCrunchFacebook And 6 Phone Companies Launch Internet.org To Bring Affordable Access To Everyone You’ll need a strong stomach to wade through the mindless cheerleading, but the cynical comments are worth the Zantac pop–TGE

AllThingsD:  The ZuckerPAC Says It Cares About All Immigrants, Not Just the Techies (the comments below, written by techies, frequently use the word ‘exploit’)

Windows Phone CentralWith the Nokia deal, Microsoft become a juggernaut in patents for smart devices

And if you really want to dig deep into Nokia-Microsoft, ZDNet has the Global Roundup to End All Roundups here

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