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 Internet.org 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.
Internet.org 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) Internet.org 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.