Dear Facebook – We won’t get fooled again!

Facebook’s blatant attemptKill Facebook FreeBasics to kill Net Neutrality in India died last year when massive opposition from ordinary Internet users in India scuttled the project they called (sic) 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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; 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).

It’s Lal Bahadur Shastri’s birthday too!

While I have nothing against celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday today and celebrating it enthusiastically, let us not forget another great man who was born today. And we must especially remember him now because of our problems with China. They are repeat of what was happening in the early 60s.

I was very, very young, but I remember those days because my father, being in the army, was on the border with China (we called it NEFA then). There was a lot of tension at home, because we didn’t know how he was – all we knew was that he was in the midst of the war. It was 1965 and we didn’t have the kind of communication we have now. Once every two weeks or so, we would get an “inland letter”, and when that blue piece of paper with his neat handwriting arrived, we were happy for a while.

My uncle’s family had a tougher time. Even after the war ended, he was missing for months. We learned later that he and his men had gotten lost and had wandered behind enemy lines. They survived by tossing grenades into frozen ponds and eating the raw fish that floated up to the surface. But I’ll perhaps save that story for another time…

More importantly it was in this mood of tension and waiting that our Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri went to Tashkent (then part of the USSR) to negotiate a peace with Pakistan (and unbeknownst to the world, also the Chinese). It was after the successful conclusion of the negotiations that he suffered a heart attack, and on a cold January morning in what is now the capital of Uzbekistan, surrounded by strangers, he passed on.

Today is the anniversary of his birth too. Let us also pay our respects to him along with Gandhiji.


The Indian By-Poll of 2013

It’s cold here – which is 7.8C. That’s 46F to us Americans.  And tending to Absolute Zero for the Congress in four states, especially Delhi.  It’s the winter of our discontent for Indians and they are expressing it in their votes.  The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) almost got a majority in Delhi, and could get one if there is another poll, which latter is likely.  It is being called a win for Truth and Integrity.  It is certainly a win for the People with a “capital” P.

But beware!  This was the first battle in what is going to be a long drawn-out war.  And now that the Congress is on the back foot, the fangs will really come out.  There are too many vested and entrenched interests that will not allow transparency to expose the massive corruption that is part of the very fabric of the nation and especially of Delhi – its capital.

AAP workers and leaders have been beaten and ostensibly even murdered – quite recently too.  Although it is unlikely that this will be repeated now that they are so much in the limelight and have become the darlings of the people, it is possible that many other underhand techniques in the arsenal of the corrupt will be unsheathed, and soon.  Buying votes, intimidation of voters and party workers, pressure on bureaucrats by the powerful and many more such threats are to be expected.

So, the AAP, and especially its supporters, should not rest on their laurels, but gear up and roll up their sleeves for the real hard work ahead.  Delhi is one of the smallest (but perhaps most iconic) of the State Assemblies and a win here (an almost win actually), though significant, is a drop in the ocean.

But the AAP may themselves undermine their success.  Their excessively populist and anti-business stance may scare many business interests into investing support for the other beneficiary of the anti-Congress zeitgeist – the BJP.

And of course there is the BJP – the big dog in the fray.  Compared to them, the AAP is puny and may be steamrollered by their national machine.  But more on the BJP later.

  • Ad