News Release

Behind Modi at Facebook

USA Today reports: “On Facebook’s campus on Sunday, two of the world’s most powerful men used the high-tech company’s pulpit to promote a mutually beneficial platform: the growing power and influence of social media and the future of the digital economy in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were given a warm reception.”

Techtimes.com reports: “After sustaining heavy criticism that led to several partners pulling out their services, Facebook’s Internet.org app has now been rebranded as Free Basics.”

MISHI CHOUDHARY, mishi at softwarefreedom.org, @MishiChoudhary
Choudhary is executive director of the India-based Software Freedom Law Center. She said today: “Earlier this year, after an uproar in India, several local partners pulled out of Facebook’s Internet.org — what’s now FreeBasics.com. Facebook has finally stopped trying to pretend that this is an effort at philanthropy by correctly calling it FreeBasics.com by Facebook and not internet.org which neither had the internet nor the org. The app right now only gives people who already have a mobile phone access to about 40 websites that Facebook chooses. Facebook has similar zero-rated programs launched in many African countries, Latin America, Indonesia, and other developing countries, but India clearly seems like the make or break. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow. So zero-rated efforts such as these violate these principles.”

Choudhary recently co-wrote the piece “Fictional internet policy is bad for India, good only for Facebook” responding to a piece in the New York Times.

She added: “India’s first BJP government enabled Indian poor to get access to mobile telephony, at prices they can afford and its second could provide Indians with an Internet that reflects the world’s largest democracy’s commitment to equality and human dignity. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley is to make that possible. But India has no need for the supposedly-humanitarian assistance of Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ program that destroys all security on the Net for those poor enough to need subsidized Internet service.The poor deserve the same sanitation, health care, drinking water, primary and secondary education, and network communications as the rich. It is the responsibility of society to provide them. Fair regulatory pricing of telecommunications tariffs in India would allow the Indian poor access to data service, as they now have access to mobile telephony, at prices they can afford.

“‘Free Basics’ works against its supposed beneficiaries for several reasons. First, rather than offering ‘the Internet,’ this service requires its users to route all their traffic to ‘free websites’ through his servers, where the users’ identities are logged so that their traffic can be paid for by Facebook, rather than by them. So the first actual charge is that the poor will be comprehensively surveilled by Facebook, losing any shred of personal privacy, while the rich using the real Internet do not route all their traffic through Facebook.

“Second is the loss of security for the poor. No one using ‘Free Basics’ will ever be able to assure herself that the bank or store or government services website she thinks she’s using is genuine, because the architecture still breaks the ‘authentication’ pathway between the user and the remote system.”