This comment on Gizmodo summarizes the Free Basics debate for me. While on the surface, it seems like an excellent initiative with altruistic intentions that serves a humanitarian cause, but as soon as you give it some thought and look behind the veneer of philanthropy and humanitarianism, you realize it is a genius money-making scheme that will ensure facebook’s survival for years to come.
Let me explain how.
Free Basics by Facebook – At What Cost?
Let us assume Free basics is a reality and Millions of Indians start using it.
Today, it offers free usage to about 100 different sites, few of them actually being good. There is no doubt that the number of these sites is going to increase.
Suppose facebook feels threatened by Twitter and wants to launch its competition.
Let’s call it ‘Chutter’.
It makes Chutter available for free to its millions of users. People on Chutter have no access to Twitter and have their own world with thousands of followers.
Because of the number of people using it and lack of an alternative, Chutter becomes a hit instantly and suddenly is a competition to Twitter.
They can’t compare Google+ and Facebook and reject one of them like you and I did a couple of years ago. And I haven’t discussed the aspect of a youngster trying to open something of his own yet.
BTW, Free Basics has Bing! on it.
Do you know the real-world example of Chutter?
Weibo. China does the exact same thing and the entire world goes crazy advocating net neutrality there, including Facebook.
Wynk is free on Airtel, other music streaming apps are not.
The Hike is free, WhatsApp is not. Why?
Because they both are backed by Airtel.
How can you try and take all the benefits of a free-market economy by curbing and thwarting the same free-market economy?
Facebook wants to create a parallel internet where it decides what it wants people to read and what it doesn’t.
It may look lucrative to see so many people connected to the internet but in the long run, it will be disastrous.
Why? you should ask. Let me give you another example.
Most of my friends hate NDTV. Including me. Why don’t we like it? Because Barkha looks like a shemale? Probably.
More so because that channel shows biased news while indulging in fixing news as it was conclusively proven by Radia tapes.
We started hating traditional media because of people like her and started getting our information from the Internet. This was instrumental in spreading information against the previous regime and its malpractices.
But what happens when free basics say news A is free, news B is paid. You choose news A. You lose your ability to get all the information thereby to make an opinion.
There are other implications like you may not be able to read this article because it is against one particular network. Your reach for information becomes limited which in turn curbs our collective freedom of speech in a very twisted way.
By the way, remember Airtel Zero? They had a tie-up with NDTV.
While Facebook argues for Net Neutrality laws in the US, and supports permission-less innovation in that country, in India, it wants a permission-based Internet through its partnership for Free Basics.
Everybody will have access to different information in different universes. I get access to information from Vodafone free internet, you get it from Airtel Zero, others get it from Facebook basics.
I am not against Facebook and its right to conduct business. However, if you want to do business, call it a business and not charity.
Facebook is a behemoth that has gone on a media blitzkrieg to justify Facebook Basics. Why has it not chosen options like Mozilla foundation or Grameenphone, Bangladesh with limited data access?
Facebook seems to claim that Free Basics is a charitable contribution to society. People in 28 countries have been opposing it for a long time and Facebook is actively fighting back.
Why is Facebook spending so much money and effort on campaigning for something that people clearly do not want?
If people don’t want your “charity”, why force it upon them? And what does that say about the true nature of Free Basics?