Opinion Pieces

Opinion Piece: Save The Internet

This article was submitted to Ergo by Vinay Narayan, a third-year student of the Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar. His interests, outside of Law are food & sports, which he relishes when he watches football, as an ardent supporter of Manchester United Football Club.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have heard of Facebook’s Free Basics. Actually, even if you have been living under a rock Facebook would have managed to ensure you found out about it. That is how extensive Facebook’s advertising campaign has been. Full-page, front page advertisements in the leading national dailies, huge hoardings in central locations in metros and, of course, the timely daily reminder of how many of your friends have “voiced their opinion about free basics” in your Facebook Notifications.

What is Free Basics? Well, Facebook says that “Free Basics by Facebook provides free access to basic internet services to a billion people all over the world. Free Basics makes the internet accessible to more people by providing them access to a range of free basic services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information.” If you think this sounds a little too utopian and too good to be true, you would be right. So what isn’t Facebook telling us? What are they really hiding behind the extensive campaigning and lobbying?

There is a wealth of literature on this issue and the links at the bottom of this page cover them adequately and so I will not go into them. The aim here is to simply ensure that you, the reader do not blindly sign up for Facebook’s Free Basics without knowing what you are really signing up for. To put this simply What Facebook wants is our less fortunate brothers and sisters should be able to poke each other and play Candy Crush, but not be able to look up a fact on Google, or learn something on Khan Academy or sell their produce on a commodity market or even search for a job on Naukri.[1]

What follows below are links to articles that show the real costs of Free Basics.

1. First off we have the joint statement that was issued and signed by 64 faculty members from IITs and IISc. They highlight the three following flaws:

  1. Facebook gets to decide what is Basic.
  2. Facebook will have access to all your app’s contents, which means all your data.
  3. It isn’t really free as the cost of the data will be built in to some other service by your mobile operator.

The statement with some explanation on each point can be found here: http://thelogicalindian.com/news/iit-iisc-faculty-members-issues-a-joint/.

2. For the lazy amongst us here is a video by AIB that very succinctly and humorously spells out the problems with Free Basics. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAQWsTFF0BM

3. Next we have the brilliant article by Mahesh Murthy that takes on each of the 10 claims by Facebook in their Newspaper ads and proceeds to debunk them one by one. Facebook replied to each of these and Mahesh Murthy then went on to take apart each of their replies too. The article can be accessed here: http://thewire.in/2015/12/30/facebooks-rebuttal-to-mahesh-murthy-on-free-basics-with-replies-18235/.

4. Prabir Purkayatha’s brilliant op-ed about why there is nothing free or basic about this initiative can be accessed here: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/nothing-free-or-basic-about-it/article8042334.ece/

5. These brilliant mockups give a very clear cut picture of what exactly would happen if Free Basics does come in to play. You can find them here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/sahilrizwan/make-the-ambanis-richer?utm_term=.jqpBBqDZ5#.rtKvvDAKQ.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has extended the deadline till the 14th of January for the public to file in their opinions about Differential Pricing for Data Services. If the TRAI does allow Differential Pricing for Data Services, it would mean giving Free Basics the green light. It is an urgent request, on behalf of all the internet users, that you submit your opinion here http://www.trai.gov.in/ConsultationLogin.aspx?CONSULT_ID=20761&cid=1&qid=0. Register as a new user and submit your response.

Help save the internet.

[1] http://thewire.in/2015/12/26/facebook-is-misleading-indians-with-its-full-page-ads-about-free-basics-17971/.

DISCLAIMER: The views represented above are that of the author alone and do not reflect the views of the magazine, Ergo. No legal liability or other responsibility is accepted by or on behalf of Ergo for any errors, omissions, claims or statements on this site, or any site to which these pages connect.  We accept no responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of reliance on such information.


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