If the price of giving everyone internet access is total domination by Facebook, it’s not worth it

Some years ago, I had a conversation with a senior minister in which he revealed that he thought the web was the internet. While I was still reeling from the shock of finding a powerful figure labouring under such a staggering misconception, I ran into Sir Tim Berners-Lee at a Royal Society symposium. Over coffee, I told him about my conversation with the minister. “It’s actually much worse than that,” he said, ruefully. “Hundreds of millions of people now think that Facebook is the internet.”He’s right – except that now the tally of the clueless is now probably closer to a billion. (Facebook has more than 1.3 billion users, some of whom presumably know the difference between an app and the network.)Does this matter? Answer: yes, profoundly, and here’s why. As I write, the number of internet users worldwide stands at just over 3 billion, or 42% of the global population. That sounds impressive until you remember that it means that 58% of our fellow-humans still aren’t networked. But every prediction I’ve seen suggests that that will change, and that in the next decade another 2 billion people will get an internet connection.

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