Mark Zuckerberg at Mobile World Congress: 'We Just Want People To Get On the Internet'

Facebook Founder Won't Be Deterred In India; Expresses Sympathy for Apple

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Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, keynotes the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, keynotes the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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Mark Zuckerberg, though disappointed that Facebook's Free Basics program won't work in India, said that Facebook has other plans for the country and the developing world at large. He also reiterated his sympathy for Apple as it faces pressure from the U.S. government.

During his keynote Monday evening in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, which was fraught with sound system problems (there was loud feedback throughout the talk, which visibly threw him off), he said that he was "disappointed" that zero-rated mobile service Free Basics, part of the Internet.org initiative, was struck down by the Indian government in light of net neutrality concerns.

Mr. Zuckerberg said that Facebook will be working to roll out different programs in India. He said that Internet.org, the company's effort to provide internet to the billions of people without access, has several facets, including satellites in Africa to provide internet access, as well as the solar-powered Aquila drone.

Internet.org is an effort asking Facebook partners to package Facebook's apps with others and "zero-rate" them, giving people access to those apps without incurring data fees.

"We learned that every country is different," said Mr. Zuckerberg. "Our goal is really just to help people get on the internet," he said, adding that Free Basics has given internet access to 19 million people globally.

Facebook for some time now has been emphasizing developing countries. In October, it announced a new ad unit, Slideshow, that's meant to be served to people in developing countries who have slower 2G connections. Slideshow is essentially a series of stills of a marketer's choosing -- they can be photographs or stills from a video ad -- that are meant to render well when video can't.

Facebook has come under criticism for offering zero-rated programs so that it can then serve ads to those users. But Mr. Zuckerberg balked at those who criticize the initiative, saying, "People don't take me at face value that we just want to help people get on the internet."

He also touted video, which by all accounts, has been a boon for the company ad wise, and virtual reality. Mr. Zuckerberg made an appearance Sunday night at Samsung's conference announcement. (Samsung is also touting VR.) Mr. Zuckerberg said that as mobile operators improve their networks, more people will be able to adopt video, but that "video isn't the end of the line," and he sees a future with much more VR. Facebook's Oculus VR headset is set to come out next month.

Mr. Zuckerberg also expressed his support for Apple in light of its issue with the U.S. Government, which blew up last week, as Apple refused as has refused to comply with a court order to help U.S. investigators unlock an iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack in December.

"I'm sympathetic with Apple," he said, adding that blocking encryption of "requiring back doors" is not effective in increasing security or "the right thing to do."

He did, however, say that Facebook is helping prevent terrorism by removing people who promote it.