FB has been recently pushing its platform of internet.org in a big way. It has been spending lots of energy and money in this venture. There has been the FB signature campaign that it gets its users to sign on for the sake of supporting it’s Free-Basics program through internet.org. There have been posters and hoardings put up and also full-page ads in the newspapers for promoting it.
There seems to be a dichotomy in the name itself of Free Basics, i.e. if it’s free and only of the basics meaning only the basics are free then it’s not really free, or is it? It is flaunted as a platform to provide access to useful services free without data charges. This will bring more people online which, they claim, will improve their lives. Zuckerberg has been putting several points as having been missed out by Net Neutrality activists about their internet.org platform. It is interesting to note that they did not address the concerns being put forth by these activists but instead again pushed their own agenda in their own manner; just name changed.
For example, FB (Facebook or Free Basics) says that any mobile operator can join and they don’t get paid but have to participate to get more people online. It sounds like that of a drug dealer saying to the suppliers that they have to give their “stuff” for free and also will not get paid, the only thing that the supplier will be providing will be more people “online”. Why would the dealer provide free-lunch? FB further adds that in India 40% of people who come online through FB are paying for data and accessing the full internet within the first 30 days. Well, the supplier did get 40% of them to pay for their “stuff” once the users got hooked on to their “stuff”. Note that 60% are still seeing only that what FB is showing them.
Here is a poll point that FB flaunts saying that 86% Indians supported FB and the idea that everyone deserves access to free basic internet services. Firstly, by saying that it is a representative poll it has been indicated that it should not be taken seriously. Secondly, if they are talking about the pop-up notification in the FB page saying that one’s friend has supported it and so it has to be supported then we need to have another representative poll on how many of them really understood as to what they were signing. We can only predict here that the number would be greater than 86% for sure, because if they really understood then they would not have signed it.
From the developer point of view FB also says that any developer or publisher can have their content on it for free. They have clear technical specs openly published for doing the same. It is also claimed that they have never rejected an app or publisher who has met these technical specs, yet remember FB still holds the final decision as to what services are to be allowed on their platform. The specs too create several caveats that will mold ones app in a certain way. For example, even after TRAI reports said that rural areas needs access to videos FB says that services should not use VoIP, video, file transfer, or photos larger than 200 KB, which allows for text, which means unlettered people are out of FB. You got to be able to read!
Secondly, if they are talking about the pop-up notification in the FB page saying that one’s friend has supported it and so it has to be supported then we need to have another representative poll on how many of them really understood as to what they were signing.
There have been several backlash on this move of FB. On Change.org, a petition campaign is being run to get FB to provide an option to unsign the petition that they have already signed. Net neutrality activists have answered to the full page ad pointwise to show how this ad is actually misleading Indians. There have been few images put together here to help understand the effect of biased internet access. FB playing the role of internet gate-keeper has been argued as being against the principles of net-neutrality. Tim Berners-Lee had argued in May earlier this year against it when he has said to just say NO to something which is branded as internet but it’s not internet. There have been several videos being made again in this context and make things pretty clear for everyone to understand. Like this one on Save The Internet by SnG Comedy. AiB made another video as it had done previously when FB had been trying to push its internet.org silently. Here, there have been several points discussing as to how profits can still be made by the telcos without compromising on the principles of net neutrality.
Our stand has been the same as was put in our previous article. The internet is not really neutral. We don’t want it to be made more lopsided. There also has to be extensive study on the impact of giving FB the keys to internet gateway on India as a whole. We need to talk to those who need the basics for free. We too support savetheinternet.in and recommend that these and similar steps are taken to maintain the net as much neutral as it is now. We need to take action to help TRAI resolve the issue by early 2016.
Remember that if you’re not paying for it then you’re the product.