Maybe Facebook’s fairy godfather should spread joy closer to home

Written by on January 4, 2016 in Opinion with 0 Comments
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants an AI assistant. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Files

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Files

I’m not sure why but I don’t care much for Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, or Facebook for that matter. Maybe it was the movie I once saw that depicted him as a bit conniving, even deceitful, in his handling of his co-founder and colleagues in the early days of Facebook? Maybe it’s the fact that I have to be on Facebook simply to be part of the clique? Maybe it’s the crappy grey t-shirts he wears in public? Or maybe it’s his plan to take over the world that irks me most?

Oh yes, don’t be mistaken by the man’s altruistic efforts to get every human being on the planet connected to the internet simply because Deloitte research shows that for every 10 people who are connected to the web, one is lifted out of poverty and one job is created.

Or his magnanimous pledge to his new daughter that he and his wife Priscilla Chan would give away 99 percent of their net worth in their lifetime (that works out to about $45 billion, based on the current value of Facebook stock according to Fortune magazine).

Both gestures barely disguise the benefits they could generate for Mr. Zuckerberg in the long run and many are starting to see through the smoke screen.

Take the Indian authorities, for example. They see the bringing of free web services to India via Internet.org as a poorly disguised land grab in the country’s burgeoning internet sector. In the past, Facebook cut deals with mobile operators to offer free access to their site for millions of unconnected souls in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, with great success.

Presumably, that ploy has been replaced with Internet.org and Facebook’s Free Basic offering select services such as Messenger and Microsoft’s Bing without a data plan. Facebook argues that by giving people free access to a small slice of the internet, they will quickly see the value in paying for the whole thing.

That may well be true but Facebook gets a new user each time as well, and we all know this is a numbers game when you are trying to attract advertisers to your platform. Google, too, is trying its best to connect the unconnected with efforts like Project Loon, but the appeal of Facebook is far greater when your friends and peers put pressure on you to be part of the action. It is notable that the Facebook service doesn’t offer Google search. Shouldn’t be too hard to work out why and it adds strength to the argument about web domination obviously both seek.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet and Society, a Bangalore-based not-for-profit advocacy group claims that “activists in other countries such as Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia are watching this debate and will seize the momentum created in India.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge will come from regulators that see free services to select domains a breach of the basic net neutrality rules they seek to introduce. If Zuckerberg is really serious about giving web access to those billions without it maybe he should offer access to everything and pay the access fees on behalf of those that obviously cannot afford them.

Which brings us neatly back to his promise to give away 99 percent of his net worth that continues to grow at an alarming rate that will grow even faster as more people join Facebook. As the Fortune article points out, setting up charitable trusts and foundations can also bring enormous tax benefits, as well as improving one’s public image.

The structure he proposes still gives him majority voting rights and, therefore, control over Facebook. He also promises not to give more than $1 billion per year to his foundation over the next three years, so that will certainly leave him with enough small change to buy some new grey t-shirts.

The fact is that Zuckerberg has set up a complex limited-liability corporation, not a charitable trust. Fortune points out that “some in the tech and media community have criticized this as making the announcement less obviously charitable, but others note that it will enable the Facebook co-founder to do things that charitable trusts are not allowed to do.”

Whatever the case, surely giving money to the poor that need it most would be a more benevolent gesture. He could start by helping those in his own country. A 2013 survey by Associated Press reported that 4 out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives. On that basis shouldn’t Zuckerberg be looking out for his own ‘kin’ first. Why are they any different from the impoverished in the emerging countries he is so keen to develop?

Could it be that they are already Facebook users? Surely not!

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About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .

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