Facebook’s Free Basics: Experts Put a “Flawed” Label On the Program, Service Shuts Down in India and Egypt, More Details

Facebook’s Free Basics is the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the famous social networking site Facebook. Through this program the company aims to provide free but limited internet access to people in some developing countries. It basically allows users to access some websites like Facebook without having to bear any data cost.

Free Basics is actually a part of a much wider concept- Internet.org, which is Facebook’s attempt to provide internet access to people who are currently unconnected to the Web. The Free Basics app can be installed by users on their smartphones and it will let them access various sites including Facebook without having to incur data charges. The Free Basics site also works in the same way as the app.

The whole idea might appear to be a great example of social service, but experts have gone on record voicing their opinions about the program which state that the whole free internet policy somewhat undermines the principle of net neutrality. According to the policy of net neutrality, all kinds of internet traffic should be given the equal treatment.

Mark Zuckerberg has expressed his disappointment regarding the initiative’s criticism in an interview with the Times of India. Apparently, he wants people to look at Facebook’s Free Basics as a philanthropic activity.

With the growing user-base of Facebook by the day, the company aims to further expand it by providing free access to the site in various developing countries. The program was recently introduced in India and it ended up receiving a lot of criticism from IITs of big cities like Mumbai, Madras and Delhi and also from IISc Bengaluru.

Various faculty members of these institutions have termed the program as flawed and misleading and also stated that it will lead to people having lesser freedom in respect of choices. Scientists in India have pointed out some major flaws in the program.

Facebook taking the liberty to decide what a basic service is has been pointed out as the first flaw. It was stated that since Facebook is assuming control to define what basic is, users will lose the choice to decide whether or not to allow it to access any health apps installed on the phone. With Facebook’s free access to health apps, there always remains of risk of health records becoming public through leaks.

The concept of “Free Basics” was pointed out to be detrimental for the whole internet design as it violates the policy of net neutrality which is one of the most important principles of the design.

Taking these flaws into consideration, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) along with the Indian Government has decided to put a temporary ban on the service in India.

A new paper that questioned differential data pricing for content services was launched by TRAI on December 12. The paper is titled- “Consultation Paper on Differential Pricing for Data Services,”

The said paper does not mention anything about net neutrality but points out the concerns related to TSPs offering zero-rating platforms. The paper seeks its readers’ opinions and asks them to state their views on whether differential pricing should be allowed in the country.

Readers were expected to state their views by December 30, and the last date for submitting counter-comments on the matter is January 7.

Etisalat, an Egyptian mobile had earlier started offering Free Basics services to customers. Mobile phone users were able to access Facebook and a number of other participating sites for free. Mobile Data is quite an expensive thing in Egypt, and thus the service came as welcome relief to many.