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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Posing Challenge To Open Web-Facebook

The growing trend of closed content silos -- publishing platforms that require a login in order to view the content is a step away from a more open web. Back in December of last year, Facebook launched its own in-app browser, which is basically a web-view that loads links you tap on using the Facebook app. Although in-app browsers may be convenient for some, such features are primarily designed to keep users inside of the application for a longer duration, which translates to more advertising exposure (and, thus, more money). This kind of feature can be challenging to the goal of keeping the web open, not only because the feature overrides the end user's default mobile browser, but also because it keeps users in a closed ecosystem (versus exploring the web). Additionally, the Instant Articles feature doubles down on siloed content by working with publishers to make articles available nearly instantly within the app, loading much faster than they would through a mobile browser. This sounds good, and it is convenient. But it also sets up a path for monetizing content that would otherwise be viewable outside of the closed silo, and, because you're using the app to browse the web inside this silo, there are privacy concerns. Unlike using a browser such as Firefox or Chrome, which has a private browsing option, a user of Facebook's in-app browser does not have the same privacy control. It's no secret that Facebook has been trying to create what appears to be a closed version of the internet. The social juggernaut's Free Basics initiative, for instance, offers users with free access to select websites. Facebook gets to be the gatekeeper of the platform. This is something that didn't sit well with some privacy advocates in India, who played an instrumental role in banning Facebook's initiative in the country. Facebook is not just a social networking website where people go to talk with their friends and family, Facebook has become a mammoth platform that offers the ability to upload videos (mimic YouTube), and send money to your friends (mimic PayPal) among other things. It is almost scary to see the rate at which Facebook is expanding and trying to absorb everything that comes in its way.

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