Countering allegations of gatekeeping in website selection on its free internet platform Free Basics, Facebook today said it is open to the scrutiny of the process by any third party agency like IAMAI or Nasscom.
“We are also happy to have a third party audit of what apps we accept and reject and why. We’ve proposed this to IAMAI and NASSCOM. For the record, we’ve never rejected an app that complies with the guidelines, and we have had the conversation with operators that we wouldn’t reject apps at their discretion,” Facebook’s Internet.Org Vice President Chris Daniels said. He was replying to a question on Reddit portal.
As the last date for comments on TRAI’s paper on differential pricing for data access is approaching, the social media giant has started an advertising blitzkrieg to save its controversial internet platform Free Basics in India.
The Free Basics service is a programme under Facebook’s Internet.Org, which has been in the midst of net neutrality debate. Net Neutrality means that there should be not be any sort of discrimination in accessing applications or content available on internet.
Free Basics allows people to access a set of basic websites and services, without having to pay for Internet charges. The company has certain technical standards laid out that companies need to follow to join Free Basics.
Daniels said that Free Basics would also not be launched on a telecom operator’s network if rejecting any application was a condition for their participation.
“We’d also be happy to have Twitter, Google+, etc on the platform which many people have asked for,” he added. Defending the campaign around Free Basics in India, the social media company has said that it is not meant to mislead people but for them to take an informed decision.
“We aren’t trying to mislead anyone. We want everyone to make an informed decision. We are spending money to market the benefits of the programme because we know that it works and believe it would be a good thing everywhere,” Daniels said in response a question on Reddit portal.
Besides online campaign to send e-mail to regulator TRAI, Facebook has been running full page advertisements in leading newspapers.
Responding to a question on advertisements around Free Basics, Daniel said that the company tried to correct inaccuracies around the programme in press, on Twitter and elsewhere but was not successful and hence turned to broader marketing by advertising in newspapers.
“Newspapers are likely to reach more people than Twitter or other online platform. The amount of money being spent is tiny compared to the effort we continue to put into the Free Basics programme and other Internet.org programmes like express Wifi and solar planes to spread connectivity,” Daniels said.
Amid debate over zero-rating plans and telecom firms offering discounted tariffs for accessing certain websites, TRAI issued a consultation paper seeking comments on whether such differential pricing should be allowed.
The paper is open for public comments till December 30 and counter comments till January 7. TRAI till December 23 had received close to 5.7 lakh comments out of which over 5.5 lakh comments are through Facebook’s campaign.
On the Internet platform, Daniels said that Facebook is not making money through Free Basics but running it as part of its mission to make the world more open and connected.
“If we wanted to make more money, we’d invest in more ad technology in lucrative advertising markets. We’re not making money on this, but if our efforts contribute to getting everyone online, we will fulfil our mission as a company.”
He said that in the long run the project will help Facebook when more people come online but it will be good for the whole internet ecosystem and for society too.
“The only way we make money is if people convert to full paid internet because then we show them ads in the full version of FB (Facebook). People always say we have economic interest. Most businesses do. Our economic interest is best served by getting people to the full internet in this case,” he said.