When Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his intention to provide Internet to the two-thirds of the world without online access, he asked, "Is Connectivity a Human Right?" On Friday, Bill Gates strongly criticized the idea of the Internet as a world savior. "As a priority? It’s a joke," he said in an interview with the Financial Times on Friday.
That's not a new line of criticism, but Gates is now the most prominent tech star to join that chorus. Back in May, one unnamed entrepreneur told The New Yorker, "They actually think that Facebook is going to be the panacea for many of the world’s problems. It isn’t cynicism—it’s arrogance and ignorance." But an unnamed Silicon Valley person pales in comparison to the behemoth of Bill Gates, who echoed that sentiment. "Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I’m thinking of," Gates sarcastically told Financial Times. "Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t." Don't take that as throwing shade on technology, though, as its more directed at the misguided tech philanthropy:
"I certainly love the IT thing," he says. "But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition."
Financial Times notes that Gates's handlers tried to prevent the Times from printing that criticism to avoid starting a fight after the interview. But Gates raises an important moral question of how to best spend money, one worth tackling. While the Gates Foundation has put an emphasis on eradicating polio, consider how Zuckerberg's money would have been spent had he targeted another common, preventable disease like tuberculosis. As the maps below show, the places without Internet and those with higher rates of TB are fairly similar.
It's not a coincidence that bad health care and a lack of a widely accessible Internet are found in similar places. After Zuckerberg's Internet.org announcement, The Wire and The New York Times, among others, questioned whether Zuckerberg's philanthropy was truly benevolent or whether it was based on economic motives--after all, more Internet could mean more Facebook users, while eradicating tuberculosis means nothing for Zuckerberg's bottom line. But in a message he hopes all of Silicon Valley hears, Gates makes the question of Zuckerberg's intent totally moot.