Free Web Services Foster Piracy in Angola


Oops: Free Facebook and Wikipedia programs available in Angola have unintentionally fostered a culture of piracy.

Folks in the African nation are reportedly trading copyrighted content over the complementary sites.

In an effort to stretch the Internet into the furthest corners of the world, Facebook and Wikimedia each partnered with local telecom providers to offer zero-rated services. That is, people can access Free Basics and Wikipedia Zero on mobile phones without paying for data usage.

That’s a pretty good deal in a developing country, where 50MB of mobile datatypically costs $2.50, and the median annual salary is $720, as Motherboardpointed out, citing data from Freedom House.

But some clever netizens have found a way to abuse the free system.

Concealing content within Wikipedia (often as JPEG or PDF files), folks set up private Facebook groups where they direct users to that data. One such group, titled “Wikimedia Angola,” boasts more than 2,780 members (and a scantily clad cover photo of Nicki Minaj), with the sole purpose “to share music, movies, pictures, and anime via Wikimedia.”

The Wikimedia Foundation, however, frowns on such practices; the nonprofit has strict copyright guidelines, and as Motherboard noted, “some editors of the site say they’re tired of playing whack-a-mole.”

One editor aired their concerns in a Wiki discussion forum, writing to report possible misuse of Wikimedia projects and Wikipedia Zero.

“I am not sure if users are doing it in bad faith, but they have been warned and keep doing it,” user “Teles” wrote, citing six examples.

“I don’t think that Wikipedia Zero should stop existing there of course, but maybe something could be done, like preventing them from uploading large files or by previously instructing them in local language [Portuguese] about what they can or [can] not do.”

The Wikimedia Foundation acknowledged the uploads, telling PCMag in a statement that “uploading copyrighted content on the projects is a violation of the Foundation’s Terms of Use, various community-developed policies, and our mission to share freely licensed educational content on the Wikimedia projects.”

As a temporary solution, a spokeswoman said, editors have issued makeshift IP blocks. But in the long-term, the organization is looking into technical approaches, like using edit filters to flag larger files.

Facebook’s Free Basics, meanwhile, was banned early this year in India, where the government ruled that the app (and others like it) violate net neutrality.

Facebook did not immediately respond to PCMag’s request for comment.