Google Backs Off Zero Rating In India After Facebook Takes A Global Public Relations Beating

from the laying-low dept

Google appears to be backing away from its plans to support zero rated apps (deals that allow some apps to bypass broadband ISP usage caps) in India after Facebook found itself at the heart of a global public relations kerfuffle for the practice. As we’ve been noting, Facebook’s initiative has been under heavy fire in India as the nation debates net neutrality rules. The program, which provides free access to some Internet content curated by Facebook, has been criticized for being a security, privacy (since it doesn’t allow encrypted content and creates a one-stop shopping location for aggressive governments) and net neutrality threat. Project content partners have been dropping out of the project in droves, noting they’re not comfortable with an AOL-esque version of the Internet where Facebook gets to decide who is, and who isn’t, included. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg haven’t been making things any better for themselves with a series of tone-deaf responses to criticism in which they’ve tried to argue that a crippled version of the Internet is better than no Internet at all. Oppose Facebook’s vision for the developing world, Zuckerberg has repeatedly argued, and you’re the one hurting the poor.

Of course, net neutrality supporters and companies like Mozilla have argued that if Facebook wants to really help the poor, it would provide subsidized access to the real Internet and get out of the way. Facebook isn’t willing to do this, and continues to operate under the pretense that it’s engaged in an entirely selfless, altruistic endeavor that they’ve insisted has absolutely nothing to do with making money. The assumption is that nobody’s quite smart enough to realize Facebook has its eye on being the gatekeeping cornerstone of the developing world’s future Internet ad empire.

Google has a similar, though less publicized zero rated initiative called Google Free Zone that they’ve deployed in a handful of countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka, Thailand and The Philippines. Reports had suggested that Google was starting to push this effort to India, but after watching Facebook take a vicious beating, the company has apparently decided to put its plans for India on hold. At least according to anonymous insiders, since Google itself has been unwilling to formally comment on the matter to the press:

“The Internet giant, which was in early discussions with telecom operators and applications developers to launch a zero rating platform, has now decided to take a wait and watch approach, they said. “Google has shelved the idea of any kind of zero-rating tieup because they are very scared of the backlash which came up against (Facebook’s) in India,” said one of them…Asked about the zero rating plans, a Google spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on rumours or speculation.” Zero rating ? or, the practice of letting users access select applications free of data charges by striking deals with telecom operators ? has been hugely debated in India.”

While Google is often trumpeted as a net neutrality champion in the media, the reality is the company has been a no-show for years in the net neutrality debate in the States and elsewhere, vacillating between hypocrisy and total silence. This would be a prime opportunity for Google to take the global lead on neutrality issues and speak out against zero rating. Instead, Google’s apparently engaging in what’s becoming Google’s modus operandi on the neutrality front: sitting on the sidelines with a rather dumb look on its face, just hoping none of the net neutrality pitchforks get pointed in its direction.

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Companies: facebook, google,

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Comments on “Google Backs Off Zero Rating In India After Facebook Takes A Global Public Relations Beating”

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DannyB (profile) says:

A little freedom, and a 'free' gift

Zuckerberg’s idea that a little freedom is better than none should be taken like this:

Our Dear Leader says that a little freedom is better than no freedom. You’re still free to breathe, but that freedom is at The Dear Leader’s pleasure.

How about real freedom? You can connect to anywhere. Use encryption. Maybe the only limitation, quite reasonably, is bandwidth and/or a usage cap. Reasonable considering it is given free of cost.

If it is annoying ads you want people to see, then you could have a mechanism whereby people must agree to watch ads in order to earn ‘credits’ to ‘pay’ for the ‘free’ service.

Ah, that’s what you’re trying to do. But you can’t inject ads into encrypted connections. And you don’t want people seeing competing ad networks.

The pure greed motive of your ‘free’ gift becomes clear.

How about being transparent and honest enough to plainly admit what this really is?

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What would your criticism of Wikipedia be? Just curious.

I am unfamiliar with this. But the way you described it, sounds like Wikipedia would subsidize certain carriers (that they could come to agreement with) to not charge for access to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia being a large database of information seems like it would be beneficial for everyone to have easy access to. Especially the poor.

I don’t see this as comparable to Netflix paying (certian) carriers to offer free, unlimited, or unthrottled access to Netflix. Netflix is for profit, and charges for access to Netflix. Wikipedia does not charge for access to its site.

Also Wikipedia’s information is probably of more actual value to poor countries than Netflix’s streaming of Hollywood content. Which probably helps to keep people dumb without going quite so far as making their brains explode which could trigger liability for Hollywood.

Wikipedia has its problems. But there is a lot of useful information there.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Its real. But while noble, the goal is to zero rate Wikipedia. And that helps foster and push the biases of the Wikipedia editors over the truth, because no alternative will be big enough to be zero rated. Its the same problem with zero rating anything – it immediately has a huge leg up on all competition. That will hurt competition. Its that simple.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I suppose I could understand that if you consider Wikipedia to be ‘in competition’ with anything. I guess I do not.

As I said before, Wikipedia has its problems. Overall, I still think it is a valuable resource for everyone and would encourage that access to it should not count towards internet connection limits.

Similarly, if there are other ‘competitors’, that are similarly valuable resources, I would encourage access to those to be free as well. It doesn’t have to be either/or.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Overall, I still think it is a valuable resource for everyone and would encourage that access to it should not count towards internet connection limits.”

I strongly disagree. Yes, it’s a valuable resource, but I cannot be in favor of efforts to weaken or destroy the ideal of net neutrality. Net neutrality is, in my opinion, the greater good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Always keep in mind...

…that Mark Zuckerberg is a sociopathic monster. Don’t expect ethics, honesty, compassion, altruism or anything like that: expect unlimited greed coupled with massive contempt for the entire rest of the human race.

Some people like this become dictators. Some become serial killers. Some become CEOs. They’re all incurably evil to the core. So if you want to understand them, don’t apply the usual norms and expectations: ask yourself what a combination of Caligula, Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, and Ghengis Khan would do.

Anonymous Coward says:

“While Google is often trumpeted as a net neutrality champion in the media, the reality is the company has been a no-show for years in the net neutrality debate in the States and elsewhere”

Isn’t Google a publicly traded company with shareholders? Well, there’s your answer. Shareholders demand ‘maximized shareholder value’. CEO’s are bound by law to provide this maximized shareholder value.

Net neutrality doesn’t provide maximized shareholder value. Zero rated services do.

Google doesn’t have a say in being evil or not. They’re just like every other publicly traded company on the stock market. Every decision revolves around maximizing shareholder value.

In other words, if it doesn’t make dollars. Then it doesn’t make cents.

Anonymous Coward says:

A curated internet is still a curated internet, and a controlled one at that, where, if not now, then eventually, where a thing becomes big enough to be noticed by the relevant parties of the time, profit will reign supreme above whats right……and lose another bit of what it means to rule your life how you want (live your life, not somebody elses),……i take that back, cant lose what we have’nt achieved yet

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