Tag: Internet

India’s Telecom Authorities Have Ruled Against Facebook’s Controversial Free Internet Plan

Manjunath Kiran / AFP / Getty Images

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released their long-anticipated ruling on net neutrality in India. The regulators have ruled against differential and discriminatory pricing of mobile data on the basis of content.

This ruling will affect Free Basics — Facebook’s controversial plan to offer free, but limited Internet access — in India. Mark Zuckerberg has been campaigning to bring increased digital connectivity to the developing world. Free Basics, which claims to have 15 million users in more than 35 countries around the globe, is part of Facebook’s quasi-philanthropic efforts. India is the second largest market for Facebook users after the United States and considered vital to its continued growth.

Today’s much-anticipated ruling by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was not about Free Basics per se. Rather, regulators were reviewing pricing schemes like “zero-rating,” where mobile operators offer access to some websites and services for free, while charging for others. Advocates for digital equality argue that zero-rating gives an unfair advantage to subsidized content, distorts the market for smaller players, and squashes innovation. Supporters of Free Basics, on the other hand, counter that urban elites who already have Internet access should not deny access to the poor, even if more equitable methods exist.

According to the Press Trust of India, TRAI will charge a penalty fee of ₹50,000 a day, and capped at ₹50 lakhs for any discriminatory tariffs charged by service providers. TRAI's decision will be reviewed after two years from the date of issue of the order, February 8, 2016. Service providers have been granted six months to comply with the new rules.

Free Basics was temporarily banned in December until TRAI made its decision. TRAI was supposed to rule last week and rumors have been swirling about the reason for the delay.

In India cheap cellphones have helped make mobile usage common, but only about 20 percent of the population is online. Low Internet penetration is blamed, in part, on prohibitive data charges, which is why prepaid data plans (where consumers know what they're getting into) are ubiquitous. Meanwhile, the country’s telecom market is highly competitive. As a result, telecom providers started offering data packs that promise free or reduced charges to widely popular services like WhatsApp or Facebook long before Free Basics launched in India.

Facebook does not pay for Free Basics, although it does collect data from users. The social network partners with regional telecom operators, who offer the free service as a growth strategy to get customers to start paying for data. In India, Free Basics partnered with Reliance Communications, a telco founded by Mukesh Ambani, the richest man in India.

Free Basics was ostensibly targeted at Indians who had never experienced the Internet or could not pay for data plans. However, Facebook recently struggled to provide a reporter with the name of a single Free Basics user in India who had never been online before. Free Basics allows users free access to limited resources including Wikipedia, Bing search, and the weather, as well as a lightweight version of Facebook. Yet normal data charges apply for outside websites, like Google search results, for example.

Facebook's promotion of Free Basics has been orchestrated like a political campaign. In December, Zuckerberg published an op-ed in the Times of India defending Free Basics. In it, he repeated Facebook’s claim that half of the people who go online through Free Basics end up paying for access to “the full Internet” within 30 days, but offered no further details about the study. “Who could possibly be against this?” Zuckerberg asked. “Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India.” Other countries have prohibited Free Basics. It is not offered in Chile, for example, because the government banned zero-rating in 2014.

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

Public outcry over zero-rating did not begin with Facebook. Last spring, Indian consumers protested Airtel Zero, a data plan that would have given preferential treatment to popular services like Flipkart, one of the country’s largest e-commerce providers. Free Basics eventually supplanted Airtel as the focal point for opponents, in part because Facebook framed Free Basics as a purely altruistic gesture for India’s poor. Indian startup entrepreneurs and professors alike objected to the business model. Facebook countered with an aggressive advertising onslaught of billboards and full-page newspaper ads, but its tone-deaf crusade was brutally spoofed on Reddit.

No one wants to cut off access to the disenfranchised and the vitriol flowed both ways. Net neutrality advocates were accused of being “internet mullahs” who denied access to the poor over their inflexible beliefs.

As an independent government authority, TRAI opted to exercise its power and stepped in to the debate. Helani Galpaya, the CEO of the think tank LIRNEasia, described TRAI as a “thoughtful regulator” during an interview with BuzzFeed News in January. The agency's initial request for feedback emphasized that the “laudable goal” of connecting the unconnected “must not be forgotten.” One of the questions TRAI asked was whether alternative business models, such as offering free data limited by time or volume, rather than content, could offer a less discriminatory alternative.

TRAI has repeatedly called out Facebook for intruding on its regulatory process, which the agency said could have “dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India.” The tension centered around Facebook’s click-to-protest campaign which deluged TRAI with 11.7 million automated comments, when none of the questions asked about Free Basics.

Facebook has updated Free Basics to better serve its intended users before, when prodded. The zero-rated offering was initially called Internet.org — the umbrella organization for its other efforts to bring connectivity to the developing world. Facebook changed the misleading name, made the platform more easily accessible to outside websites and services, and added more security protections for users in response to criticism from net neutrality activists.

Given that Facebook’s future is dependent on growth from emerging markets, India’s debate over Free Basics is far from over. Last week while awaiting TRAI’s decision, Mishi Choudhary, legal director at Software Freedom Law Center, told BuzzFeed News that other areas of the globe including Kenya, Latin America, and Southeast Asia were eagerly anticipating the regulator’s response. “That’s where the moolah is and that’s where the next billion users are,” she said.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update this story with more information as we receive it.

BuzzFeed – Tech

Reddit Is A Shrine To The Internet We Wanted And That’s A Problem

Reddit has a problem. It’s a well-documented problem, which, oddly, is a big part of the problem. Every six months or so, from the depths of the sprawling site’s underbelly, a network of disparate communities which seem to feed off of bigotry and perversion rise into the greater public’s consciousness. For many people, this is their only exposure to Reddit.

Last summer it was “The Fappening,” the crudely named leak of hundreds of hacked nude celebrity photos. Before that it was a series of communities dedicated to and formed around topics like taking surreptitious and sexually suggestive photos of women (r/creepshots), photos of underage girls (r/jailbait), and stolen photos of women from the website Photobucket (r/photobucketplunder). Each instance resulted in considerable heat for Reddit for failing to prune its most toxic offshoots.

Now there’s a scandal yet again. But this time things are a bit different. Reddit’s problem stems from an executive decision to ban five subreddits for abusive behavior and harassment. It’s the flipside of its usual travail — precisely because it did attempt to prune those toxic offshoots, the site’s odious nether regions are once again getting dragged into the spotlight. And that’s largely because the community has reacted so negatively to the pruning, which it interprets as censorious; anathema to its ethos of free speech. And that’s the problem in a nutshell. The site is loudly committed to the free and open exchange of ideas. Yet that commitment means that utterly horrible things will be said and done there. This was fine in its early years — or at least OK. But as Reddit has become a cornerstone of the internet — or even the front page of the internet, as it likes to call itself — its problems become everyone’s problems. What we now see in Reddit is the crash of internet utopian idealism against the rocks of human reality.

Last week, the site shut down r/hamplanethatred, r/transfags, r/neofag, r/shitniggerssay, and r/fatpeoplehate (FPH), which alone boasted over 150,000 subscribers. (150,000!) The ban was a rare attempt by Reddit’s leadership, which has set out very publicly this year to curb harassment and revenge porn, to stop a problem before it is publicly pressured to do so by the media. Yet Reddit argues that this was not a clampdown on speech.

In the words of Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, the idea was to “ban behavior, not ideas,” meaning that, while there are plenty of atrocious subreddits still in operation (the racist community r/coontown has 13,000 subscribers), the banned communities created a toxic environment of harassment that bled from Reddit’s forums into the real world. Multiple women have reported being antagonized and threatened by FPH redditors on YouTube, and others have watched as photos tracking their weight gains were posted and used to publicly mock and harass in front of tens of thousands of commenters.

Comments left by r/fatpeoplehate users on a YouTube page.


But Reddit can’t win. In response to the ban, scorned redditors flooded the site, using the site’s voting mechanisms to post crude racist and sexist comments disparaging Pao. Renderings of the CEO as a communist leader quickly hit the site’s front page. Subreddits like /r/PaoYongYang and /r/EllenPao_IsA_Cunt popped up as well as petitions calling for her resignation. FPH members took to other subreddits to overwhelm new communities with FPH content. And it’s not just the creeps; redditors with no connection to the unsavory subreddits who see the site as an exemplar for free speech on the internet are confused by what they believe is an arbitrary ban. A vocal minority have threatened to leave Reddit altogether. Others believe the bans are the beginning of the end for the site. In an earnest effort to make the site safer, Reddit has kicked a Mountain Dew–fueled hornet’s nest, making the wider network even more volatile.

So, where does that leave us? Nowhere good, it seems.

In the wake of last week’s bans, BuzzFeed News spoke with the moderators of three notable subreddits — all far removed from the creeps and the controversy, and all of whom expressed concern with the site’s executives and strategy. “I think the leadership does have a terrible problem with unity and direction,” one moderator of a popular subreddit who wished not to be named told me via email (the moderator also noted he was pleased with the executive decision to ban r/fatpeoplehate).

“I am concerned with the leadership or lack thereof such that I may ease off my interactions on reddit,” one moderator, who goes by maxwellhill, told me. Maxwellhill maybe knows Reddit as well as anyone. This user has been on the site for over nine years and moderates 13 popular subreddits, including /r/worldnews, /r/humor, r/Economics, /r/travel, and /r/environment, and was the first redditor to achieve 1 million link karma points.

“Right now reddit is floating aimlessly in an ocean reacting to the wind and tides without a captain steering it out of any troubles it may encounter,” maxwellhill said of Pao’s tenure as Reddit’s interim CEO. In a series of private messages on Reddit, maxwellhill also expressed concern with the recent bans, “despite their unsavory behavior.”

Maxwellhill noted that “in the early days the founders were experimenting so it's understandable that they changed their directions as they moved forward not knowing what to expect. But the last few years since Yishan [Wong, the former Reddit CEO] the owners must have a clear idea where they would like be and when. That should be the strategic direction for the CEO to guide his people and the communities but I fear this is now unclear.”

“Reddit as a company is terribly run,” another popular moderator, who wished only to be identified as Alex, told me. “The community management side of reddit has been poorly handled for a long time. The people who dealt directly with the community were not the people who seemed to be making policy decisions.”

While Alex admits that there are now more Reddit employees than ever before tasked with community moderation and rule enforcement, it still seems to be insufficient. “It's not uncommon that my mails are not answered. Many people don't get their mails answered,” Alex said. “People are constantly reporting rules violations to the community managers and hearing nothing back. And that's just what gets reported. As far as I can tell, Reddit does not have enough community managers to enforce its own rules and never has. So why do they keep adding more rules?”

Alex’s frustrations are common. In fact, in Reddit’s sea of disparate communities, frustration appears to be the one uniting sentiment. For Pao, founder and current chair Alexis Ohanian, and Reddit’s still modest staff, there’s the frustration of watching as the site’s majority of upstanding, or at least innocuous, communities are eclipsed by the actions of a depraved minority. For Reddit’s investors, which now include some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, there’s the frustration of watching a company that has failed for a decade to turn a meaningful profit continue to sour in the eyes of the media as well as potential advertisers. Similarly, it’s hard to see how to continue to get presidential candidates to come and do AMAs when there are communities dedicated to the subjugation of women and shaming of fat people and creepshotting children.

A list of Reddit's most popular NSFW subreddits.


And for users, especially those who spend countless volunteer hours moderating subreddits, there’s the frustration of essentially living and working in a larger community that is often regarded in the public eye as bigoted, immoral, and deeply creepy.

“I never really bring up that I browse and mod on Reddit to other people because of some of the stuff that other communities have pulled. Despite being a fun place to be, the things Reddit has been known for (for people who don’t use it) some of the worse parts like /r/Jailbait and the 'search' for the Boston Bombers,” one anonymous moderator said.

Such comments are anecdotal and by no means indicative of any kind of consensus, and yet it’s difficult to see how Reddit’s current position as both a safe haven for any and all ideas, however heinous, and a public-facing media entity with prominent investors is tenable. The site’s problems over the past few years and especially of late seem to suggest that its backers, administrators, and users are beginning to fray at the edges.

In many ways, Reddit exists as a monument to the optimistic internet mind-set of the early 2000s; a quixotic vision of online communities that exist outside our now-accepted understanding that the internet is real life. Today we know better.

The internet, like the rest of the world, is full of people making beautiful, valuable things, and it is full of people doing horrible, unspeakable things. It's terribly weird and sometimes it helps to change the world for the better. Even when it's not anonymous, the internet can be terrifying because people can be terrifying.

Which is why so many of the internet’s largest communities rely on some form of curation in the form of algorithms or standards in order to keep those protected by the veil of anonymity from poisoning the greater experience. Few do this perfectly, but most seem to do it far less cryptically or arbitrarily than Reddit. Instead, Reddit exists in a strange kind of limbo. The company’s long-running slogan suggests that it wants to be “the front page of the internet,” while last week Reddit’s executive team stated that the site’s “goal is to enable as many people as possible to have authentic conversations and share ideas and content on an open platform.” There’s a disconnect there that may not be possible to join.

As anyone from almost any era of publishing would attest, a front page suggests curation. It suggests the best; more specifically, it suggests that which has a universal appeal. Reddit’s very own front page suggests the company knows how this works. But the Reddit that “enables as many people as possible to have authentic conversations and share ideas and content on an open platform” looks much different. Last Wednesday it looked like this:

To some, that characterization might not feel fair. But it's not to suggest that Reddit is exclusively some kind of godless wasteland. It's to suggest that Reddit is a reflection of our shared humanity, which is frequently broken and awful.

So where do we go from here? There’s some evidence to suggest that Reddit is committed to growing up earnestly and to letting its users, advertisers, and investors know that it is a place where women, minority groups of all kinds, and the underage can feel some semblance of safety. That’s a difficult road that involves redefining the site’s identity and, in the process, could alienate hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of devoted and often vindictive users who built it into what it is today.

Or the site can lean into its adherence to a particular definition of free speech and openness at all costs, providing a haven and organizational structure for communities dedicated to incubating hateful ideologies and celebrating depravity. It can continue to cling to the belief that any speech or expression, even that which intends to infringe on the freedom and safety of others, is the inalienable right of any and all redditors. It can continue the arbitrary, difficult, and incredibly precarious job of policing hate only when it manifests into harassment outside Reddit’s walls and hope upon hope that, when the crackdown comes, it’s not too late.

But for now, Reddit exists as a shrine to the early internet’s naïveté. A reminder of the disconnect between the internet we wanted and thought was possible and the internet of our current reality; the world that we want, and the world we have got.

BuzzFeed – Tech

10% Of All Internet Phone Calls Now Happen Through Facebook

The company is getting huge in areas outside its core social network. Each day its apps are responsible for 45 billion messages, and 4 billion video views.

Facebook is a social network. And a messaging service. And a collaboration tool. And a video player. And a phone.

The company, which has long described itself as a cluster of various apps related to social interaction, released a set of numbers of Wednesday that show just how dominant it is becoming in these new areas.

More than a social network, Facebook now looks like a communication conglomerate, and one that is quickly dominating more aspects of our daily lives.

Eric Risberg / AP

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BuzzFeed – Tech

Adam D’Angelo On Quora And The Future Of The Internet

The CEO of Quora and first chief technology officer of Facebook sits down with BuzzFeed News to talk about where Quora and the broader internet is headed in 2015.

Larry Wong

In the past couple of years, how have you seen the way people communicate on the Internet change over time?

Adam D'Angelo: Things are getting more verticalized. In the past people used to set up their own website, and there were lots of different platforms. You could use lots of different software to make a website, every website looked different. Now, there's a lot more centralization, so instead of your homepage, you have your Facebook page, your Twitter account, and everyone uses the same service; they use Facebook and they use Twitter. Whereas in the past, everyone had a different homepage, and every homepage would be different.

So stuff's just getting centralized onto a smaller number of platforms. And then the platforms get really good with the scale they get to. Because one person can't really invest in good technology just for their one site, there's just one person, but when you have everything centralized, like Quora we can hire this team of 100 really amazing people to build Quora into a great product, because it's centralized. That's an important thing.

Another trend going on is, if you look at what's happening with messaging apps… it's almost like specialization happening. In different countries there are these different apps that get really popular, and they're kind of culturally tuned to the place.

Like WeChat and Line.

AD: Yeah, but even in Korea there's KakaoTalk, there's Telegram, that's another messenger. That gets customized for these different countries. If you look online, or on some of the messaging apps, they show a different set of stickers depending on what country you're in. They specialize it for you. Quora is very different from these apps, but… I think that no one has come along and really done stickers well for the Western market.

In 2007, I was at Facebook and we looked at some of the social networks in Asia, and they were full of games. There was this farm game that was integrated with the biggest social network. And people would spend money on these virtual gifts to give each other, and buy stuff for their farm. And it just seemed crazy — no way would people in the U.S. go for this kind of thing. They're just too serious. And then you open up Facebook platform and a year later, games are everywhere, FarmVille's there. I always hesitate before drawing these cultural conclusions that people are that different in other places. Culture really matters. I wouldn't be surprised if stickers are as big here as they are in Asia in five more years.

Can you articulate what the core problem Quora is trying to solve, on a technical and more general level, and how far along the company is?

AD: There's actually a lot of problems that all fit together. We're trying to keep quality high, that's very important for us. If you look at all these other efforts before Quora, to get knowledge onto the internet, a lot of them suffered from quality [issues]. That's a big problem. We need to build systems that can automatically figure out what's high quality and what's not, and encourage users to contribute high-quality content. There's a lot of technical challenges in that.

We're basically building this map of who the experts are in every given topic of knowledge. For any area of knowledge, we want to know who the people who know the most about that are, and should be answering questions, so when we have questions we can show them to the right people. So it's this technical challenge around building out this map of areas of knowledge, and this database of who the experts are and automatically updating that over time.

Larry Wong

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BuzzFeed – Business

A User’s Guide To Dealing With Trolls On The Internet

Here is your hazmat suit for the toxic garbage dump known as the ‘net.

(Technically, an ogre, but let's just be chill about it.)


2014 has been an especially bad year to exist as a human on the internet. It's felt as though a fog of animosity rolled in and engulfed all our interactions; almost no one was left completely untouched from some sort of awful interaction with a stranger online. As someone who has spent too much of her own time eating bugs from the rank waters of the internet swamp, I hope to share some advice on how to navigate through the fog.

First of all, real trolls aren't like you and me.

They're not just someone with a different opinion. Real trolls come from deep down in the swamps of the internet, where their bad attitudes have been preserved in the peat bogs for years. They come from places such as Reddit and late '90s-looking message boards and multiplayer online video games, where their most treasured pastime is hurling insults at one another for hours on end. Imagine the Ivan Drago training montage in Rocky IV, but instead of doing pull-ups in a lab, it's sitting on Reddit for, like, four years straight. They're Teflon.

[I should clarify the definition of troll as it applies to this post. From here out, we are talking about real honest-to-god trolls, not just “someone who disagrees with me.”]

To be dreadfully honest, it doesn't look great for you: They are masters. They have been training all of their lives for this moment, and you're just some schmuck who decided to sign up for Twitter a few years ago to shoot some ideas off the dome. It is arrogant to think that you can win against them. It'd be like if you showed up to a law firm and asked to try a few cases because you watch The Good Wife.

It gets worse. These lunkheaded goons from the primordial internet ooze aren't just haphazardly hurling random insults at each other (or you, if you're an unlucky target). True trolls of the internet take their craft seriously, and spend hours analyzing how to argue. Think of the fedora atheists who love “debating” so much they have several subreddits devoted to it (r/DebateAnAntheist, r/DebateAChristian) and proudly post all the sick owns they deliver to their high school friends on Facebook. They obsess over terms like “logical fallacy” and “strawman argument” as if they believe they could be transported through time into the Scopes trial. They love discussing the art and science of internet arguing just as much as they love actually delivering sick owns on the 'net. They have been training for this moment their whole teen lives and, like Ivan Drago, they will break you.

The internet vs. you.

i.imgur.com / Via reddit.com

This is where I have to tell you the bad news: You will never win against them.

I'm sorry. This sucks. I wish I had something more hopefully to impart to you. The truth is, if you are reading this article on BuzzFeed dot com right now, you are probably already too well-adjusted to win an argument against a true internet troll. However, you are likely enough of an internet native that you have some experience with trolls or arguing on the internet. A recent Pew survey found that 40% of online adults have experienced some sort of harassment or name-calling, and 8% have been physically threatened. A YouGov survey found that 30% of adult men and 18% of adult women have “argued with someone about an opinion” on the internet.

However, of these descriptions of online harassment, only 38% said their harrasser was a stranger — a true internet troll. Friends, exes, co-workers, and even family were frequently the ones responsible for internet unkindness. Here's an example from Pew's survey: “my own brother calling me racist for not supporting Obama and for disagreeing with his policies.”

This is clearly not a good situation, but there's an important distinction, here: Your brother is not an internet troll; he's just a guy who disagrees with you. You can disarm your libtard brother by reminding him of the time he crapped his pants at Disneyland. You cannot win against a real internet troll. You have zero hand.

So that's where I come in. I am here to help you get over your ego that keeps telling you have a chance to “win.” There is no “win” here on the 'net.

The sooner you accept this, the happier you will be.

Consider this Wondermark comic about an annoying sea lion:

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BuzzFeed – Tech

The Slavoj Žižek Dress-Up Game Is The Best Thing On The Internet Today

Welcome to the Dress Up Of the Real .

This is the ursine celebrity philosopher Slavoj Žižek. He is known for outrageous and contrarian arguments. He's kinda like the Slate of philosophers.

This is the ursine celebrity philosopher Slavoj Žižek. He is known for outrageous and contrarian arguments. He's kinda like the Slate of philosophers.

Andy Miah/Creative Commons / Via Flickr: andymiah

But now, thanks to Welcome To The Dress Up of the Real, you can pick out a brand new outfit for your Slavoj, and make him look more presentable.

But now, thanks to Welcome To The Dress Up of the Real , you can pick out a brand new outfit for your Slavoj, and make him look more presentable.

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BuzzFeed – Tech

The Internet Cares Much More About Nicki Minaj’s Butt Than Kim Kardashian’s Butt

This Google data proves it.

Jishai Evers/Dadaviz / Via dadaviz.com

In the last 24 hours, you've likely seen Kim Kardashian's shiny planetoid of a butt. But while the massive interest generated by this most recent assplosion may seem huge, Kim's keister can hardly hold (clench?) a candle in comparison to the assquakes caused by the current champion of buttinterest, Nicki Minaj. The above comparison chart, created by Jishai Evers of Dadaviz, shows that searches for Minaj's fat butt dwarf those for Kim's. (Those are units of relative magnitude; in other words, 100 is the most searches and 0 is the least.)

If you want to play around with the graph, which is interactive, click below.

LINK: Sorry Kim, The Internet Is Way More Obsessed With Nicki's Butt

BuzzFeed – Tech