Facebook’s “Save Free Basics in India” Campaign Provokes Controversy
Monday, December 21, 2015
Facebook is calling on Indian users to send an email to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), asking the government agency to support its Free Basics program. The campaign, which shows up when users sign onto the social media platform and includes a pre-filled form so they don’t even have to write an email, has already proven controversial, with opponents saying its message undermines net neutrality in India.
Free Basics, which became available throughout India last month, is a program by Facebook initiative Internet.org to provide basic Internet services, like search, Wikipedia, health information, and weather updates, for free to all users. While it sounds altruistic, Free Basics has the potential to drive reams of traffic to sites from certain providers (including Facebook) at the expense of others, which violates the principles of net neutrality. The TRAIplans to hold a public hearing on net neutrality next month.
India is currently Facebook’s second-biggest market after the U.S., with 130 million users, and many net neutrality advocates believe that its campaign is another example of how the company is misusing its size and influence to form the opinions of Internet users in emerging economies.
The form, which shows up automatically for many users in India, is titled “Act Now To Save Free Basics In India,” includes a message that reads:
“Free Basics gives people access to vital services, such as communication, healthcare, education, job listings and farming information—all without data charges. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help with getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile networks.
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