What is Facebook...now?
Everyone knows about the origin of Facebook as the social media website born out of a dorm room. We've all seen the movie, read the book and relived Facebook's invention in countless articles on the internet. But, since then, Facebook has expanded its prowess at lightning speed. Facebook is now the owner of WhatsApp & Instagram, the acquirer of virtual reality firm Oculus, and 50 other companies in the fields of travel, internet, file sharing, Mobile Ads, digital publishing, location services, face recognition, speech recognition, the list is long and exhaustive. Facebook is rapidly moving towards becoming one of the largest aggregators of user data in the world.
A research paper titled 'Ethical Implications of Data Aggregation' by Santa Clara University says, " The myriad bits of information collected by Facebook can be used to compile a detailed and penetrating profile of an individual, one that is if anything even more personal. In the hands of a company that professes a philosophy of "radical transparency," this can leave the subject very vulnerable, not just to having personal information exposed but to being discriminated against because of it."
Facebook makes majority of its revenue by selling adspace and targetting advertisements to users whose data it collects and sells to advertisers. How else does an ad from an online ticketing firm appear on your feed just when you are planning a holiday or when you browse a particular product on an ecommerce website, Facebook instigates you to buy it by flooding your homepage with deals and discounts of that very product. Data aggregation and ownership is the biggest, most viable business in the world right now, and that's exaclty what companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc are after.
What is Free Basics and why is Facebook being so philanthropic?
Simply put, Free Basics is an app you can download to access some particular websites and online services for free, sans any data cost. Currently, the app will only work with a Reliance Communications connection, but for now the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has asked Reliance Communications to halt the service temporarily. A TRAI source told TOI, "The question has arisen whether a telecom operator should be allowed to have differential pricing for different kinds of content. Unless that question is answered, it will not be appropriate for us to continue to make that happen."
In the past few months, Facebook has been aggressively pushing its agenda for providing free internet to Indians. They have published full page ads in leading English national newspapers, they have hoardings in metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai, they have television ads, they are pushing notifications on our smartphones, they are promoting their "Save Free Basics" campaign through ads on our Facebook feeds and the countless emailers that follow. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg even made the effort to come down to India this year. The company is doing all this to gather as much support as they can till the December 31 deadline of TRAI inviting comments on a consultation paper on net neutrality. TRAI is asking the same question as stated above- Should a telecom operator be allowed to have differential pricing for different kinds of content?
While Facebook is doing all that they can to 'Save Free Basics', a free internet platform for those who remain disconnected, the company's insistent agenda does not seem to include the very people this platform is being built for. Targetting the already internet friendly population, metro citizens and english daily readers, Facebook is calling on people who already are on the internet, instead of those that want to be.
Do we really need Free Basics to increase internet penetration in India?
While Facebook's Free Basics' ad proudly claims statistics like 50% faster adoption of mobile networks, 3.2 million petitions to TRAI in support of Free basics, and an 86% support from Indians for Free Basics, the fact is that we may not need Free Basics at all.
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