Facebook does many different things at once. It has become so much more than just the parent company of the world’s largest social media platform. Over the years, Facebook has gotten involved in virtual reality, instant messaging, and even the idea of providing free internet to unconnected people all over the world. The Free Basics initiative sounds great on paper, but there are a lot of downsides to this project. Creating an on-ramp to the internet is not without its drawbacks.
Facebook’s Free Basics Is Flawed
Despite all of the downsides, Facebook’s efforts in this area have been monumental. On paper, it makes a lot of sense to bridge the digital divide in developing countries. This is to be achieved through the Free Basics mobile application, which serves as an on-ramp to the Internet itself. As a result, users are given free access to several online services, regardless of whether or not their ISP or mobile data provider would otherwise let them access them.
Among the services one can access through the Free Basics app are Wikipedia, BBC News, and AccuWeather. Governments in developing regions tend to restrict online free speech and access to specific resources, and sometimes those sites bear the brunt of such censorship. Free Basics is active across 63 different countries, although there has been considerable opposition by local governments.
India has shut down Free Basics in the country because Facebook does not respect net neutrality. Rather, the company prioritizes its own services, rather than providing an “open gateway to the Internet.” Egypt has also blocked the app from being used due to its privacy concerns. To date, those are the only two major countries which first allowed the app prior to restricting its use. Other countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are seemingly content with how the project operates and what it provides in return.
A new report has surfaced which is critical of Facebook’s Free Basics project. It turns out there are multiple major flaws connected with the use of this app. Localization support is one big weakness, as it does not meet the language requirements of specific regions. Multilingual populations, such as those in Pakistan and the Philippines, will see no real benefit from this initiative due to poor linguistic support. Additionally, there is very little content to access despite heavy promotion of corporate services in the Western world.
Indeed, the app does not connect people to the global internet as most people know it. Instead, all user activity is recorded and sent in the form of metadata back to Facebook, a very disturbing side effect for those who take online privacy very seriously. The list of accessible apps is furthermore a violation of net neutrality. Prioritizing specific services or information over others is not the right way to go. There seems very little reason to use Free Basics as it provides no real advantages to users.
Facebook is more interested in collecting user data than providing necessary services to people in developing countries. What is advertised as a gateway to the global internet is nothing more than a package of sponsored applications that anyone can buy into in order to have these projects favored over competitors’. The whole report is damning for Facebook and Free Basics.