Facebook Busted Trying To Fake Support For Its Net Neutrality Positions In India

from the we-see-what-you-did-there dept

For much of the last year now, Facebook has been under fire in India for its “Free Basics” zero rating campaign, which exempts Facebook-approved content from carrier usage caps, purportedly to the benefit of the nation’s poor. Critics however have argued that Facebook’s just trying to corner developing ad markets under the banner of altruism, and giving one company so much control over what’s effectively a walled garden sets a horrible precedent for a truly open Internet. Indian regulator TRAI has agreed so far, arguing that what Facebook is doing is effectively glorified collusion, and it’s demanding that Facebook shut the program down until a public conversation about net neutrality can be had.

Like any good giant international company, Facebook’s response to this call for open and honest dialogue has been to launch a mammoth media and lobbying blitz across India. The campaign has included buying entire newspaper spreads in which Mark Zuckerberg professes to be super worried about the country’s farmers, to some subtle, local advertising:

But as we noted a few weeks ago, Facebook also engaged in some pretty shifty behavior to try and trick people into spamming Indian regulators in favor of Facebook’s Free Basics plan. Numerous people complained that the Facebook app tricked them into signing and sending a complaint to TRAI, after the regulator issued a call for public feedback on the country’s nascent net neutrality rules:

Facebook subsequently admitted it also “accidentally” sent the message to U.S and UK users as well, resulting in a flood of “feedback” from people who don’t live in India and may not even know what Free Basics is. Amusingly, TRAI appears to have noticed the spam attempt and called Facebook’s bluff. In a public notice (pdf), TRAI notes that it received 2.4 million responses in total, with about 1.9 million of them associated with Facebook’s media campaign domains.

Being Facebook-generated form letters, TRAI points out that none of these responses appear to answer any of the questions the regulators put forth in its original call for feedback. Facebook’s response, attached to the filing, is to claim that the company actually helped generate 11 million supporters of Free Basics, yet it mysteriously has no idea where these missing 9.1 million responses disappeared to. In other words, Facebook not only tried to trick its users into spamming the government, but it appears it may have lied about the overall volume of support Free Basics had.

Combined with Zuckerberg’s claims that opponents of Free Basics are extremists that hate the poor, Facebook’s making an excellent case for its critics who say that creating a walled garden version of the Internet in which Facebook is king is a very bad idea. A better idea? As numerous folks have suggested, how about putting all of this money being spent on Free basics, lobbying, spamming and marketing into actually updating India’s lagging broadband infrastructure?

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Companies: facebook

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Comments on “Facebook Busted Trying To Fake Support For Its Net Neutrality Positions In India”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Building your altruism on what you choose they deserve, is not altruism! It is self-fulfillment, a policy, a business!

That is the biggest problem here: In pursuit of saving his business venture, he is invoking altruism as a reason to support his purpose.

It is very unethical and irresponsible to appeal to peoples emotions like that, but if you can pull the wool on enough people, you might just win the political battle…

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

That had nothing to do with advertising, and although i agree that some of these are problematic or somewhat misrepresented, changing the behavior of private industry for the better is one of the best ways to improve things. Hell, if the way we do consumption and economies does not change, nothing ever will improve.

But more to the point: That wasn’t Mike Masnick.

Anonymous Coward says:

might be a good idea to spend that money on the USAs shit internet speed and choices and also to stop Hollywood and the entertainment industries from taking control of it! they already have almost every supposed democratic government falling over themselves to do whatever the industries demand! how about working for ‘THE PEOPLE’ for a change??

jlaprise (profile) says:

Won't somebody please think of the children!

Enough already with the false moral outrage.

Facebook is first and foremost a business meaning that it’s goal is (depending on your business theorist) profit or customer acquisition. If you believe the altruistic elements of their argument, that’s on you. Welcome to modern global online marketing.

Furthermore, this is a perfect situation for invoking Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Improperly implemented or thought through marketing campaigns fall into the latter, especially when you consider other Facebook official comments noting how surprised they were at public reaction.

Oh and BTW India only has 20% Internet penetration leaving 1 billion people offline. For comparison, Facebook has about 1.5 billion regular users. Pretty much any tool or service that extends Internet access to the Unconnected is good. The Unconnected in India need all the help they can get.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Won't somebody please think of the children!

At Facebook’s discretion, yes.

I understand that this is unacceptable for some. However, my broader point is that if Free Basics introduces people to a walled garden, those walls are low enough that people will see what’s going on over the fence. If Free Basics fails to meet peoples’ needs, they will look elsewhere for another service.

Connecting the Unconnected is the first priority.

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