If you log in to Facebook today, among the many notifications you receive, you might see one exhorting you to ‘ Act now to save Free Basics in India.’ It may pique your interest but that’s all it should do. For those who came in late, Free Basics is basically Internet.org in a new avatar. It still promises to do exactly the same thing i.e. give the user access to the internet with boundaries.
In his townhall address in IIT Delhi, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Those who don’t have access to the Internet cannot sign online petitions.” He was trying to make a case that those who oppose the Net Neutrality-violating Internet.org/Free Basics service are campaigning against those who do not have Internet access.
But he was really wrong. We all want the best for those joining the internet family. We want them to see the unfiltered view of the web, not what Facebook thinks it should show them.
Tim Berners-Lee, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, recently called Airtel Zero (the version of Free Basics that Airtel that attempted to launch) “Economic Discrimination”. He said that “Economic discrimination is just as harmful as technical discrimination, so ISPs will still be able to pick winners and losers online.”
The current Save Free Basics campaign page provides users with a pre-written response to Trai saying the initiative could connect a billion Indians. The pre-written message says that over a billion Indians would be hurt by the shutting down of its Free Basics program.
The page exhorts users to send the response, claiming “Free Basics is in danger in India.” But really the only thing really in danger is Net Neutrality.
If (lets hope you don’t) you send the email to TRAI, all your friends on Facebook receive a notification, and maybe you’ll influence others to sign up as well.Whether you like it or not, TRAI will receive many of these messages of support and perhaps Free Basics will even get a seal of approval. But this campaign is just wrong.
More than 7.5 lakh people signed a petition to oppose Airtel’s scheme and to uphold net neutrality principles in the country. Numerous Web and media companies dropped off Facebook’s offering in support of the initiative initially.
This is evidently Facebook’s attempt to fight back and gain some lost ground. And given’s Facebook’s reach, they might top those numbers without breaking a sweat but it still won’t make them right.
Just because the primary users are expected to be poor doesn’t mean they should only have access to a small piece of the internet pie. It is wrong at many levels and one more reason for not send the mail to Trai.
This image of Free Basic’s as a world-changing corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort certainly isn’t born from the goodness of Zuckerberg’s heart. You may love Facebook but to Facebook you are just part of a business and that is the grim reality of it all.