Facebook’s blatant attempt to kill Net Neutrality in India died last year when massive opposition from ordinary Internet users in India scuttled the project they called (sic) Internet.org. Now, resurrected right around Christmas (they should have waited till Easter J) under a different name – “Free Basics” they seem to have made inroads by signing up (according to them) over 800 developers and millions of ordinary users.
A number of very credible people have written very detailed and thoughtful criticism of Free Basics and the attendant double-full-page advertising campaigns. Here are two of them:
Free Basics Is A Charmingly Seductive Do-Good Effort That in Reality is Sinister by Giridhar PaiGiridhar Pai, Sr. Vice President at National Bulk Handling Corporation Ltd.
Facebook is misleading Indians with its full-page ads about Free Basics by Mahesh Murthy, Marketer, Venture Capitalist, Corporate Speaker. Founder, Pinstorm. Co-founder, Seedfund
Microsoft too has criticized Facebook’s characterization of Free Basics (although that’s a little like Trump critiquing Hitler), saying that to describe Free Basics being compatible with Net Neutrality is misleading (Economic Times, Page 1, Friday 25th December).
I won’t repeat all the well-made arguments made in the articles I mentioned, but I do want to make three salient points:
- If Facebook really is interested in getting more people on the Internet, why are they limiting Free Basics to just their own site and a few others who have promised their fealty to them? Why not open up the entire Internet and subsidize access to those who can’t afford to access it otherwise? The answer is obvious – Free Basics and its predecessor are simply a naked attempt to shore up their bottom line, either soon or in the long term.
- Any kind of walled garden – no matter what/how good the intention, is anathema to a free, fair and democratic Internet. Even if (and I don’t believe it for a second) Facebook really is being altruistic, the moment any future manager at Facebook (Zuckerberg or anyone else) decides they have done enough “good” and want to cash in on the millions of users they have lured into their lair, they can. And it will be too late then.
- As part of their campaign on their own site, Facebook shares that 29 of my friends “…have sent a message to TRAI about Digital Equality in India”. TRAI, by the way is the Telecom Regulator in India, and so they make it look like my friends are part of a campaign to right a wrong in India. In fact, the wrong if any is being perpetrated by Facebook. There is no option to vote against the proposition, so to speak.
Bottom Line: Don’t support Free Basics or Internet.org; in fact let’s actively fight this and all other attempts on the fragile but important meritocracy of the Internet.
One suggestion: Use the form like I have to send the opposite message (see the graphic).