Facebook draws flak for misleading `Save Free Basics’ campaign

18 Dec 2015


Facebook is making a last ditch attempt to salvage its much criticised Free Basics, a new version of its earlier `Internet.org' programme, released in India. But the social networking site is facing severe criticism for misleading readers and exploiting its vast user base in the country.

Facebook launched a `Save Free Basics', campaign on the social network this week, urging users to show support for its digital equality programme India, and prompts users to send an email to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), saying non-implementation of Free Basics will prevent 1 billion people from coming online.

''Act Now to Save Free Basics in India. Free Basics is a first step to connecting 1 billion Indians to the opportunities online - and achieving digital equality in India. But, without your support, it could be banned in a matter of weeks,'' facebook exhorts its users in the campaign.

A notification on the site shows which friends of yours have agreed to it and then asks 'you too', to agree.

The user has the option of sending a pre-written email to Trai, which says: "Free Basics provides free access to essential internet services like communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming and more. It helps those who can't afford to pay for data, or who need a little help getting started online. And it's open to all people, developers and mobile operators. With 1-billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country's most vulnerable people. I support Free Basics - and digital equality for India.''

Facebook currently has over 130-million monthly active users in India at present.

However, the move is reported to have not gone down well with several Facebook users and online activists, who took to social media platforms to vent their ire, calling "Save Free Basics" everything from "desperate" and "dirty trick" to "dirty deception" and "wolf in sheep's sheep's clothing".

Free Basics proposes to provide free access to basic Internet services by partnering with telecom companies. By striking deals with telecom operators, users can access select applications or websites using the service free of data charges.

Commonly referred to as "zero-rating," the so-called free service has been criticised for its conditional or tied service.

"This is classic Facebook style manipulation to garner support of Indians," said the Free Software Movement of India in a statement, alluding to Facebook's past attempts to garner support for Internet. org through a similar campaign earlier this year.

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, himself has recently come down hard on Facebook's internet.org/Free Basics, saying it violated the principles of Net Neutrality.

Facebook, however, continues to push its `Free Basics', which, in fact, is not ''free'' and is only its old, much maligned `Internet.org' in a new bottle.

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