Saturday, 2 January 2016

Should I support Facebook's Free Basics in India?

Do you have any idea why 'Internet.org' was renamed to 'Free Basics' just for India?

About 1 year ago, when Internet.org was launched in India, many citizens protested and stopped it as it was against the net neutrality. Facebook was shocked by this response. So, the marketing department of Facebook renamed it to 'FREE BASICS' and relaunched as they thought Indians will never say 'no' to anything which is given for free.

Now, Facebook is aggressively marketing to get it accepted by India's Telecom regulator.  They are publishing full page newspaper ads, roadside banners and online ads. They stooped so low from their standards and started sending constant notifications to all their Indian Users to click a button which will send a mail to TRAI saying that you support 'Free basics'. They even 'accidentally' sent these notification to foreign users.

They make their ads look like they are doing a favour for India through 'Free basics' and our evil government is stopping their good efforts. And, if you do not accept their nagging notifications, then they make it look like you are a bad person who doe'n't support 'digital equality' showing the list of your friends who support it.

'Digital equality'- another term coined by Facebook for their ads. Does that word look suspiciously similar to 'Net neutrality'? Aye?


What is 'Free basics'/'Internet dot org' according to Facebook?

Free Basics by Facebook provides free access to basic internet services to a billion people all over the world.

Free Basics makes the internet accessible to more people by providing them access to a range of free basic services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information.

To date, we've been able to offer these services to a billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. By introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these services, we hope to bring more people online and help improve their lives.

That really really makes it look so world challengingly good, right? Who doesn't want free unlimited internet?

You can imagine that a poor kid in a Chhatisgarh village in central India should be able to see Khan Academy videos, her Dad should be able to look up agricultural spot prices on Google or a commodity exchange and perhaps her Mom could look for a better-paying job at a top job board. But natch, none of these are part of the so-called "Internet/Free Basics" that Facebook offers the poor. Videos in fact, are not available at all, presumably to conserve bandwidth so it can be retained for more important things like villagers sending each other Candy Crush requests.

There is no Google, there is no LinkedIn, there's no Alibaba, there's no Amazon, there's no Flipkart, there's no eBay. No place these folks can buy, or sell or trade. There's no Kiva or other bottom-of-pyramid money service. No loans they can receive. No government sites, no banks. No Coursera or EdX or Khan Academy - so it's not about education either. Forget about entertainment - there's absolutely none of that. And no Quora, of course. You name any possible site of importance to someone who needs information and opportunities, and it's not there. But, hey, I guess then you can always poke folks in the next village! (source)

What is 'free basics'  according to rest of us?

Free basics give free internet access to Facebook and few other internet services approved by Facebook.

The internet market growth is getting saturated in the western world as most people are already using internet. India and other Asian countries have a large untapped population who are yet to use internet. Facebook wants to acquire these users by any means possible. One easy way to make Facebook popular among these users is to give it for free.

Do you know how drug-agents get college students addicted to their drugs? They first give it for completely free. Then once the students get addicted to it, they start charging them heftily.
Free basics is launched for Facebook's best interests. Otherwise why are they so pushy about this and investing millions for the ad campaign itself, when people are clearly protesting against it? Reliance - the official network partner of Free basics advertises it as 'Free Facebook' on newspapers (source)

What are 'basics'?

Facebook or Whatsapp wasn't a basic internet service 10 years ago. If some other company X had offered their service free from past 15 years then facebook/whatsapp wouldn't have even existed.
The things which may look basic now may not be basic in next 10 years. By giving Facebook control of which apps to give for free, we are creating a monopoly. New startups won't be able to compete as everyone will use the Facebook's free alternative.

For example:- If free basics was launched in 2010, then Whatsapp would never have been so popular as 'Facebook Messenger' would have been free, while you would have to pay data charges to use 'Whatsapp' or any other service. This creates a monopolistic environment where only Facebook will thrive.

What is Net neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

It is one of the fundamental principle due to which Internet exists in the form we see today.

"What net neutrality activists won't tell you?" - Seriously? This is the title they used in their newspaper ads.

The guys behind Save The Internet!  have given a befitting reply.

You can read the reply here:- 
  • There are other successful models (this, this, this) for providing free Internet access to people, without giving a competitive advantage to Facebook. Free Basics is the worst of our options.
  • Facebook doesn’t pay for Free Basics, telecom operators do. Where do they make money from? From users who pay. By encouraging people to choose Free Basics, Facebook reduces the propensity to bring down data costs for paid Internet access.
  • Free Basics isn’t about bringing people online. It’s about keeping Facebook and its partners free, while everything else remains paid. Users who pay for Internet access can still access Free Basics for free, giving Facebook and its partners an advantage. Free Basics is a violation of Net Neutrality
  • Internet access is growing rapidly in India. We’ve added 100 million users in 2015. Almost all the connections added in India in the last 1 year are NOT because of Free Basics.
  • Free Basics is not an open platform. Facebook defines the technical guidelines for Free Basics, and reserves the right to change them. They reserve the right to reject applicants, who are forced to comply with Facebook’s terms. In contrast they support ‘permissionless innovation’ in the US.
  • The only source of info on Facebook’s Free Basics is Facebook, and it misleads people. Facebook was criticised in Brazil for misleading advertising (source). Their communication in India is misleading. People find the “Free” part of Free Basics advertising from Facebook (or FreeNet free Internet) from Reliance misleading (source).
  • Facebook gets access to all the usage data and usage patterns of all the sites on Free Basics. No website which wants to compete with Facebook will partner with them because it will have to give them user data. Facebook gives data to the NSA (source) and this is a security issue for India.
  • Research has shown that people prefer to use the open web for a shorter duration over a limited set of sites for a longer duration. (source)
  • Facebook says that Free Basics doesn’t have ads, but does not say that it will never have ads on Free Basics.
  • Facebook has shown people as saying that they support Free Basics when they haven’t. They may claim 3.2 million in support, but how many of those mails are legitimate?

What can Facebook actually do without violating net neutrality?
  • Facebook can give all Indian users free full access to internet up to certain data limit every month.(For example: 100MB internet free for everyone every month without any restrictions. Facebook can pay for that as part of their philanthropic effort.)
  • Free internet at low speeds up to certain data limit
  • Ad supported free internet, but with no restrictions on which site/app you can visit and which you can't.
  • Give subsidized data coupons like Rs10 for first 200MB of the month.
  • Lay the infrastructure(cables, routers etc) to connect villages/rural towns.
  • Give free unrestricted internet to poor people in selected regions.
  • They can create something like 'GoogleWebLight For Slow Internet' which will reduce the data size of all websites and provide it for free.
  • Mozilla in partnership with Grameenphone in Bangladesh allows users to receive 20 MB of data usage for free each day, in exchange for viewing an advertisement.
  • Aircel is going to give free unrestricted internet at the speed of 64kbps across the country.
What can you do to stop 'Free basics'?

You can go to Save The Internet! and sent an email to TRAI saying you are against this. TRAI have already put a ban on 'free basics' till 31st Dec and is asking user's input.

You can spread this information and ask your friends to also do the same.

They have made it very difficult to write convincing articles against it, as the writer would end up looking like a jerk/elitist if they say "I am against free basics for the poor". This is why it is important for the people who know the truth to help others understand it. Is it possible to stand against a multi million dollar advertising campaign containing the word 'free' by a company which already has direct access to most internet users?

Microsoft, Paytm and Truecaller have strongly opposed 'Free basics '-(Source)

Mahesh Murthy (co-founder Seedfund) opposes 'Free basics' in his LinkedIn article.

Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web) opposes 'Free basics' (Source)

PS : I don't own this post. I was going through Quora, I came across this post and thought its worth sharing. For the original post please click here.

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