In an interview published today by Wired, reporter Steven Levy asks Mark Zuckerberg to address criticism that his new project, Internet.org, is less about fighting for human rights and more about expanding Facebook's business in the developing world. Zuckerberg replies:
But that criticism is kind of crazy. The billion people who are already on Facebook have way, way more money than the next 6 billion people combined. If we wanted to focus on just making money, the right strategy for us would be to focus solely on the developed countries and the people already on Facebook, increasing their engagement rather than having these other folks join. Our service is free, and there aren’t developed ad markets in a lot of these countries. So for a very long time this may not be profitable for us. But I’m willing to make that investment because I think it’s really good for the world.
As we pointed out last week this is a bit disingenuous. The developing world is Facebook's fastest growing market for revenue, increasing at more than double the rate of North America and Europe over the last year. And the numbers are not insignificant. Last quarter Facebook made more money from these countries than it did from Europe. If the trend continues, its hard to see why Facebook wouldn't profit in these areas.
Even if Zuckerberg doesn't believe expanding to these areas will generate a profit, it's clear from the interview he thinks that it could play a vital role in growing Facebook's global influence. When asked by Levy what engages him personally in this effort, Zuckerberg replied: "People often talk about how big a change social media had been for our culture here in the US. But imagine how much bigger a change it will be when a developing country comes online for the first time ever. We use things like Facebook to share news and keep in touch with our friends, but in those countries, they’ll use this for deciding what kind of government they want to have. Getting access to health care information for the first time ever."