It’s been two years since Facebook’s Free Basics has been in the public domain and ever since then it has been at the centre of constant debate. While India has already banned the app stating its net neutrality defying nature, a recent report by activist group Global Voices has found out that not only does Facebook’s Free Basics violate net neutrality principles, it’s not proving that helpful to even those who are using it.
People using the Free Basics app have to survive with a basic Bing search engine, a Johnson & Johnson-sponsored baby advice app, and a number of other sponsored apps. In fact, Facebook is the only popular social media app accessible on the Free Basics app. The app in question here doesn’t even come with an email platform support.
Facebook’s Free Basics was banned by India’s Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last year for violating the principles of net neutrality. Through the Free Basics app, Facebook aims to help bridge the digital divide in developing countries in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The initiative, which is now active in 63 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has become a crucial part of Facebook’s strategy to become the most popular and powerful social platform on earth.
The app also comes with certain language and content limitations that doesn’t make its case stronger either. For instance, if you access Free Basics in Pakistan, you would only be able to access it in English and Urdu. Thus, leaving out other major languages spoken in the country like Punjabi, Pashto etc. Further, most of the apps featured inside are US and UK-based, with only a few local options available.
The Global Voices report only takes into account data collected from Columbia, Mexico, the Philippines, Ghana, Pakistan, and Kenya and not all of 63 countries that the initiative is currently active in. According to the report, Facebook is just acting like an ISP and collects users’ traffic data. It says, “For users who want to get online with Free Basics, Facebook makes and enforces the rules of the road, and is the primary benefactor of profits generated by user data.”
Facebook’s take on the entire issue is quite surprising. According to the Mark Zuckerberg led company, limited internet access is better than none, and it’s doing its part by connecting those who live in rural or impoverished areas.