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Wikipedia Zero was a project by the Wikimedia Foundation to provide Wikipedia free of charge on mobile phones via zero-rating, particularly in developing markets. The objective of the program was to increase access to free knowledge, in particular without data-usage cost. With 97 operators in over 72 countries, it is estimated that access to Wikipedia was provided to more than 800 million people through this program. The Wikipedia Zero program ended in 2018.
The program was launched in 2012, and won a 2013 South by Southwest Interactive Award for activism. After having received criticism over the years for violating the principle of net neutrality, in February 2018 the Wikimedia Foundation announced the end of the initiative, stating that it would take a new approach on partnerships. Despite providing service to 900 million persons, the project was seen as jeopardized by a lack of growth, and by the declining price of cell phone data.
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Below is a selective history of launches. For a complete list of participating mobile networks and launch dates, see Wikimedia Foundation: mobile network partners.
- May 2012: Malaysia, with Digi Telecommunications
- July 26, 2012: Kenya, with Orange S.A.
- October 2012: Thailand, with dtac; Saudi Arabia with Saudi Telecom Company
- May 2013: Pakistan, with Mobilink
- June 2013: Sri Lanka, with Dialog Axiata
- October 2013: Jordan, with Umniah; Bangladesh, with Banglalink
- April 2014: Kosovo, on the IPKO network
- May 2014: Nepal, with Ncell and in Kyrgyzstan with Beeline
- May 2014: Nigeria, with Airtel Nigeria
- October 2014: Ukraine, with Kyivstar
- December 2014: Ghana, with MTN Ghana
- December 2014: Angola, with Unitel S.A.
- January 2015: Algeria, with Djezzy
- March 2017: Iraq with Asiacell
- September 2017: Afghanistan with Roshan
Reception and impact
The Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones of Chile ruled that zero-rating services like Wikipedia Zero, Facebook Zero, and Google Free Zone, that subsidize mobile data usage, violate net neutrality laws and had to end the practice by June 1, 2014. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has said, "Whilst we appreciate the intent behind efforts such as Wikipedia Zero, ultimately zero rated services are a dangerous compromise." Accessnow.org has been more critical, saying, "Wikimedia has always been a champion for open access to information, but it's crucial to call out zero-rating programs for what they are: Myopic deals that do great damage to the future of the open internet". The Wikimedia Foundation's Gayle Karen Young defended the program to The Washington Post, saying, "We have a complicated relationship to net neutrality. We believe in net neutrality in America", while adding that Wikipedia Zero required a different perspective in other countries: "Partnering with telecom companies in the near term, it blurs the net neutrality line in those areas. It fulfills our overall mission, though, which is providing free knowledge".
Hilary Heuler argues that "for many, zero-rated programs would limit online access to the 'walled gardens' offered by the web heavyweights. For millions of users, Facebook and Wikipedia would be synonymous with 'internet'." In 2015, researchers evaluating how the similar program Facebook Zero shapes information and communications technology use in the developing world found that 11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the Internet. 65% of Nigerians, and 61% of Indonesians agree with the statement that "Facebook is the Internet" compared with only 5% in the United States.
An article in Vice magazine notes that the free access via Wikipedia Zero made Wikimedia Commons a preferred way for its users in Bangladesh and elsewhere to share copyrighted material illicitly. This caused problems at Wikimedia Commons (where uploading media that is not free-licensed is forbidden). The Vice article is critical of the situation created by Wikipedia Zero and of the backlash among Wikimedia Commons editors, arguing: "Because they can't afford access to YouTube and the rest of the internet, Wikipedia has become the internet for lots of Bangladeshis. What's crazy, then, is that a bunch of more-or-less random editors who happen to want to be the piracy police are dictating the means of access for an entire population of people."
- Russell, Brandon (February 22, 2013). "Wikipedia Zero Wants to Bring Wikipedia to Mobile Users Without a Data Plan". TechnoBuffalo. Archived from the original on March 29, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- Wadhwa, Kul Takanao (February 22, 2013). "Getting Wikipedia to the people who need it most". Knight Foundation. Archived from the original on July 4, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- "Wikipedia Zero - Wikimedia Foundation". wikimediafoundation.org. Archived from the original on April 22, 2015. Retrieved February 17, 2018.
- Sofge, Erik (March 8, 2013). "SXSW: Wikipedia for Non-Smartphones Is Brilliant. Here's Why". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on April 12, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- Riese, Monica (March 12, 2013). "SXSW Interactive Awards Announced". The Austin Chronicle. Austin, Texas: Austin Chronicle Corp. ISSN 1074-0740. Archived from the original on March 17, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- "Net Neutrality and the Global Digital Divide". Electronic Frontier Foundation. July 24, 2014. Archived from the original on February 8, 2015. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
- "Wikipedia Zero and net neutrality: Wikimedia turns its back on the open internet". accessnow.org. August 8, 2014. Archived from the original on January 4, 2015. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
- "Building for the future of Wikimedia with a new approach to partnerships – Wikimedia Diff". Wikimedia Foundation. Archived from the original on February 18, 2018. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
- Tiwari, Aditya (February 19, 2018). "Free 'Wikipedia Zero' Is Shutting Down After Serving 800 Million Users". Fossbytes. Archived from the original on June 25, 2018. Retrieved December 13, 2019.
- Dillon, Conon (December 18, 2013). "Wikipedia Zero: free data if you can afford it". Archived from the original on January 23, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- "Wikipedia Zero launches in Malaysia with Digi — Wikimedia Diff". Diff.wikimedia.org. May 26, 2012. Archived from the original on June 24, 2013. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
- "Mobilink brings Wikipedia Zero to Pakistan". nation.com.pk. Archived from the original on June 22, 2013. Retrieved June 27, 2013.
- "Mobilink brings Wikipedia Zero to Pakistan". Mobilink. Archived from the original on August 16, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
- "Wikipedia FREE". Dialog. Archived from the original on November 27, 2015. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
- "Tech Talk | Wikipedia Zero | A righteous initiative for accessing free knowledge". Archive.thedailystar.net. December 2, 2013. Archived from the original on July 27, 2014. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
- "Banglalink launches Wikipedia Zero :: Financial Express :: Financial Newspaper of Bangladesh". Thefinancialexpress-bd.com. Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. Retrieved June 24, 2014.
- "Kosovo's Largest Foreign Investment Sets Tone for Innovation". www.the-american-times.com. Hazlehurst Media SA. July 22, 2014. Archived from the original on May 2, 2015. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
- "Wikipedia Zero arrives in Nepal via Ncell and you don't have to pay a Paisa to use it". Archived from the original on July 12, 2014. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
- "Beeline открыл бесплатный доступ к Wikipedia для своих абонентов". Archived from the original on August 13, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
- "Wikimedia Foundation partners with Airtel Nigeria to offer free Wikipedia access to subscribers — TechCabal". May 29, 2014. Archived from the original on May 30, 2016. Retrieved June 25, 2016.
- "Абоненти "Київстар" можуть користуватися Wikipedia з нульовим балансом на рахунку". Kyivstar. Archived from the original on November 6, 2014. Retrieved November 13, 2014.
- "MTN Ghana empowers customers with free access to Wikipedia". myjoyonline.com. Archived from the original on December 23, 2014. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
- "MTN Ghana empowers customers with free access to Wikipedia". myjoyonline.com. Ghana News Agency. December 22, 2014. Archived from the original on December 23, 2014. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
- "Djezzy lance l'accès gratuit a Wikipedia". Archived from the original on July 11, 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
- "Asiacell to offer free access to Wikipedia in Iraq". AFP. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
- Fingas, Jon (February 18, 2018). "Wikipedia ends no-cost mobile access for developing countries". Engadget. Archived from the original on February 19, 2018. Retrieved February 19, 2018.
- Mirani, Leo (May 30, 2014). "Less than zero – When net neutrality backfires: Chile just killed free access to Wikipedia and Facebook". Quartz. Archived from the original on July 4, 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
- McKenzie, Jessica (June 2, 2014). "Face Off in Chile: Net Neutrality v. Human Right to Facebook & Wikipedia". Archived from the original on July 5, 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2014.
- "Wikipedia's 'complicated' relationship with net neutrality". Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 25, 2015. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
- Hilary Heuler. "Who really wins from Facebook's 'free internet' plan for Africa?". ZDNet. Archived from the original on July 6, 2015. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
- Leo Mirani (February 9, 2015). "Millions of Facebook users have no idea they're using the internet". Archived from the original on July 6, 2015. Retrieved July 6, 2015.
- Koebler, Jason (March 27, 2016). "Wikipedia's Piracy Police Are Ruining the Developing World's Internet Experience". Motherboard. Vice Media. Archived from the original on March 24, 2017. Retrieved June 10, 2017.
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