24-03-2015, 10:54 #1
[EN] "Digital Prison" - Battle for African Internet users stirs freedom fears
* Africa has huge Internet, smartphone potential
* Facebook, Google offer Africans "free" services
* Phone, Internet companies target new customers
* Critics say new Africa users will be "trapped"
By Joe Brock
JOHANNESBURG, March 24 (Reuters) - Google and Facebook are at the forefront of a scramble to win over new African Internet users, offering freebies they say give a leg-up to the poor but which critics argue is a plan to lock in customers on a continent of 1 billion people.
Africa's Internet penetration will reach 50 percent by 2025 and there are expected to be 360 million smartphones on the continent by then, roughly double the number in the United States currently, Mckinsey Consultants data shows.
Africa had 16 percent Internet penetration and 67 million smartphones in 2013.
This growth is attracting interest from Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, which are striking deals with service providers such as Vodacom , MTN, Bharti Airtel and Safaricom to offer users free, or 'zero-rated' access to their sites and services.
Facebook, through its Internet.org programme, offers a stripped-down version of its social network and some other sites for free in what it says is an exercise to "connect the two thirds of the world that doesn't have Internet access".
Google, in partnership with Kenyan mobile phone firm Safaricom, is rolling out its "free zone" in Kenya, where email and the Internet are available with no data charges, providing users stay within Google apps.
Google has said its "free zone" is aimed at a billion people without the Internet in the developing world.
France's Orange is offering free access to a pared-down version of Wikipedia in some African countries, while South Africa's Cell-C gives its customers free use of WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook.
Critics, however, say big service providers and Internet companies are luring African users into using their services, giving them opportunities for greater advertising revenue.
"It's like a drug pusher giving you a small amount and saying: 'If you want more, you have to come and buy it'," Africa Internet access specialist Mike Jensen said.
Giving Africans free access to some Internet sites may also stunt innovation and limit the opportunities for African entrepreneurs, making online technology another industry on the continent dominated by big foreign companies.
In Nigeria, 9 percent of Facebook users say they don't use the Internet, mobile service survey site Geopoll says.
"You are giving people the idea that they are connected to this free open world of the Internet but actually they are being locked up in a corporate digital prison," Niels ten Oever, head of digital at rights group Article 19, told Reuters.
"Where will the African Mark Zuckerberg come from when they have no chance to compete?"
There are also concerns that regulators in Africa lack the capacity to track how telecoms companies allocate bandwidth. Telecoms firms sometimes limit Internet speeds for some content, known as "throttling".
Telecoms operators say self-regulating bandwidth usage is important to ensure heavy data users, such as people who download movies, don't clog up bandwidth for lower Internet users.
The United States passed rules in February to ensure greater "net neutrality", intended to make sure all content managed by service providers in the U.S. is treated equally on the Internet, despite opposition from telecoms companies.
But African countries don't have tough rules on "net neutrality", meaning some services could be given faster access than others, which some activists say could give bigger companies an advantage over new market entrants.
The 24 sub-Saharan African countries tracked by Internet monitoring site WebIndex have "evidence of discrimination" in the allocation of bandwidth and have "no effective law and regulations" on Internet freedom.
"There is little transparency into the Internet operators' deals so it is hard to see where conflict of interests might be," Jensen said. "You're left just having to trust them."
Despite concerns about limited regulation and an uneven playing field, many experts argue that any improvement in Internet access in Africa should be welcomed, given it could improve education, grow businesses and alleviate poverty.
High speed broadband costs up to 100 percent of average per capita income in Africa, compared to less than 1 percent in developed countries, according to WebIndex.
"Would you tell someone who is hungry: 'Don't eat that greasy burger, it's bad for you. Wait for something healthy?'" said Stephen Song, an Internet researcher for the Network Startup Resource Center.
"I'm not a fan of 'zero-rated' services but there is an argument to say: 'something is better than nothing'." (Editing by Anna Willard)
24-03-2015, 11:04 #2
Gen Z's Data Obsession: Bits and Bytes Are the New Commodity
How Brands Can Give Users 'Bonus Data' In Exchange for Attention
Last week at Mobile World Congress, Telefonica announced that it's testing a plan that will let consumers trade brand engagement for more data.
Ask any Gen Z mobile user about their phones, and one of the first things they'll tell you is that they are overly concerned that they'll use up all their monthly data and are looking for ways to conserve wherever they can. Advertisements, apps and websites are commonly known to suck battery life and impose on data usage, primarily because to date, brands have not properly optimized their platforms for mobile use.
If last year gave us any indication of the future of a connected world, we learned that while smartphone hardware is not expensive, the real cost of entry into the mobile market can be attributed to data. In a hyper-connected mobile-everything world, bits and bytes are the new commodity. If we as advertisers are going to be successful at capturing consumer attention while addressing this consumer concern about increased data, we're going to need to be aware and respectful of usage.
As an evolution from the early days of consumption models between advertisers and TV soap operas, there is a new value exchange between advertisers and consumers -- with mobile data as the new consumer-attention commodity. So what are advertisers doing -- and what should we be doing -- to address this global and growing consumer need for mobile data?
A new ad model is needed
Conversations in early 2015 have looked at new monetization models and the implications for advertisers and marketers who seek to create meaningful experiences for their audiences, when the dependency on internet connectivity is critical. As publishers typically have relied on ad-based models to gain audience reach, advertisers have relied on them as well. However, when a consumer is interacting with a mobile ad experience, a new advertising model may be needed. As demonstrated by Telefonica's announcement, brands could ideally offset their data costs in exchange for consumer interaction with the brand.
We are starting to see these types of moves in the general mass market, with brands like T-Mobile touting "stash your data" plans in order to save unused monthly data. And recently, McDonald's acknowledged mobile data's growing status as a currency and announced it will offer customers in the Philippines free SMS messaging with food purchases.
But it's not just about coming up with a solution for the technology . We need to focus on the consumer mindset and look at the issue through their lens. If we treat data as a commodity and come up with ways to give users a way to offset their data woes, we've solved for a major rational (and sometimes emotional) pain point.
Offering "bonus data" to Gen Z
Advertisers are going to have to pay particular attention to the Gen Z consumer and think creatively and strategically about ways their brands can offer "bonus data" to their consumers for spending time with their brand. Whether it's giving them opportunities to watch a video, play a game, listen to music or spend time on a mobile website, advertisers should think about ways to engage consumers that won't count against their data plans. As a reward for engagement, consumers get to conserve precious data.
For example, let's say a Gen Z shopper was browsing the fall collection from her favorite retailer, and after several minutes of activity on the mobile site, she could be sent a notification saying that if she continued to shop, her time and data usage spent on the site would be free for the next five minutes.
Consider downtime at the airport, bus shelter or a waiting room, when consumers quickly turn their attention to their smartphones. Brands could reward consumers by informing them they are in a "data-free" zone and the brand is picking up the tab on the data used while visiting their websites. Or musicians who want to drop their albums via a music-streaming site could offer these downloads as a "data-free" gift to their biggest fans.
The benefit to advertisers is that they not only create some entertaining and exciting experiences for their audience, but they also provide utility and value to the consumer, which in turn helps shift brand perception. Those advertisers who think about consumer needs first will win in this space.
This could be the start of a new golden age of mobile and advertising, much like the early days of soap operas and TV. It's time for brands to start thinking of ways to not only create something useful and entertaining for their audiences, but also address the growing consumer obsession with data -- the new commodity.