Users will always find a way

A while back, I read an article about how people in Angola are using Wikipedia to shared pirated content. It reminds me of Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm in “Jurassic Park”: “life…………..finds a way.” Given limited access to the Internet, clever people will find a way to use their resources in unintended ways.

At the time of the article’s publication, most Internet access in Angola was by way of mobile phone. The local carrier provided zero-rated access to Wikimedia sites, which means reading and writing to Wikipedia is free. With most of the rest of the Internet billed by usage, this makes Wikipedia an obvious hub for information exchange. And that’s what Wikipedia is intended for, but the copyright implications make this behavior dangerous for the site. Wikipedia functions as a public library in this sense, but with legal landmines.

The idea is a noble one. Wikipedia is a non-profit dedicated to sharing factual knowledge. Of course it is beneficial to give people access. But there’s a bit of “we did our part, time to move on” here. In a country where people make less than a thousand dollars a year, it takes more than an encyclopedia set to improve the standard of living.

Much like in centuries past, developed nations have no hesitation raiding poor countries for desired resources (how many companies buy foreign domain names so they can spell something cool?) in exchange for knowledge that the locals never asked for. Instead of religious missionaries, we give them an encyclopedia. Again, I’m not saying giving people access to Wikipedia is bad, but are we helping in the way we think we are?

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