On Feb. 2, when Meta Platforms reported Facebook’s first-ever quarterly drop in daily users, its finance chief identified higher mobile data costs as a unique obstacle slowing growth in India, its biggest market.
On the same day, the U.S. tech group posted the findings of its own research into Facebook’s business in India on an internal employee forum. The study, conducted over the two years to the end of 2021, identified different problems.
Many women have shunned the male-dominated social network because they’re worried about their safety and privacy, according to the Meta research, which hasn’t been previously reported.
“Concerns about content safety and unwanted contact impede women’s FB use,” said the study, reviewed by Reuters, as it detailed the platform’s main challenges.
“Meta cannot succeed in India while leaving women behind.”
Other obstacles included nudity content, the perceived complexity of its app design, local language and literacy barriers and a lack of appeal among internet users seeking video content, according to the research, which was based on surveys of tens of thousands of people as well as internal user data.
Facebook’s growth began plateauing last year, when it added a few million users in the space of six months in the country of about 1.4 billion people, significantly lagging sister apps WhatsApp and Instagram, according to the report, which noted: “FB has grown more slowly than the internet and other apps.”
A Meta spokesperson, contacted about the study, said the company regularly invested in internal research to better understand the value its products provide and help identify ways to improve.
“But it’s misleading to characterize 7-month-old research as an accurate or comprehensive representation of the state of our business in India,” they added.
Nonetheless, the main Indian issues detailed in the research were not cited by Meta’s chief financial officer, Dave Wehner, on a Feb. 2 call with analysts to discuss results for the final quarter of 2021.
Wehner said Facebook’s user growth in Asia-Pacific and some other areas was hit by competition, plus comparison with prior quarters when COVID resurgences aided user engagement. He identified higher mobile data costs as a “unique” headwind for India.
Asked why the obstacles to growth identified by Wehner were different from those identified in the research, the spokesperson pointed to a Meta filing in April, during its first-quarter earnings, where it said Facebook users in India, Bangladesh and Vietnam represented the top three sources of growth in daily active users in March versus a year before.
Facebook’s fortunes in India have broad implications for Meta, which has lost about half of its value this year amid a broader tech sell-off and faces scrutiny from investors and analysts who fear its growth in potentially high-growth developing markets is starting to wane.
“India contains more FB users than any other country,” said the research, which pegged the number at almost 450 million as of November, after rapid growth over much of the past decade.
“Teams across the company should explicitly consider their strategic position and growth opportunities in India. Outcomes in India could drive global results.”
The internal study, a “high-level overview of the growth trends” in India, was detailed in a presentation meant to help Facebook’s researchers and product teams. It said that a key problem Facebook had tried to fix for years in India, with limited success, was related to “gender imbalance”.