Free Basics, a new form of colonization?
Free Basics, also known as Internet.org is an app launched by Facebook. It’s a digital app that allows users to have access to a limited selection of data services and websites. It’s a set of apps within the app that are free of charges. This app offers constrained internet access to users who can’t afford a cellphone data plan. It offers many mobile platforms that are connected to some online services in coordination with many other companies such as Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTeck, and many others such as education, business tools, health advice, job posting, news, employment, games…however the only communication tool offered in this app is Facebook.
A year ago, Facebook’s Free Basics was put in motion in India; soon enough this service was banned there later. A central contention of the startups-457 companies signed a single letter opposing Free Basics, more than 800 founders put their names on a letter to Modi last week-Is that the program creates a bottleneck to web access at the very moment when Indian startups are taking off(Backchannel, 2016, p.13).
India blocked Facebook’s initiative service in favor of net neutrality where it’s believed that Facebook should not favor some sites or online services over others. As Back Channel has been chronicling for some time, they see it as a violation of the principles of net neutrality(Backchannel, 2016, p.6). Authorities were more likely to approve on this service if the whole internet was covered and not just some limited sites. This is a system where Facebook decides what sites of the internet that the user is allowed to check; it will limit the concept of the internet for most of India. The right to the internet is the right to choose what spaces and media we access; to choose spaces that enrich us-not what companies think should be our basics(Dr. Shiva, 2015).
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The websites in the app can be browsed without any expenses, however it’s deprived of photos and videos. Facebook is not introducing people to open internet where you can learn, create and build things, it’s building this little web that turns the users into a mostly passive consumer of mostly western corporate content. That’s digital colonialism(Solon, 2017).
Although colonization is a process by which a system of power rains over the surrounding, Facebook’s market expansion activities do not constitute outright colonization; rather approaches the market’s sphere with a morphed version market capitalization in Africa for example, with instituting a neocolonialist monopolization on the African media scene.
The reasoning behind labeling this marketing expansion in Africa as new colonialism rather than the orthodox form of colonization is the distinction that Facebook is not directly taking control of these means of media production of the populous; rather it monopolizes a key section of economy, thereby extorting a vast amount of African citizens.
Mark Zuckerberg provides the opportunity for African citizens to access certain websites that include Facebook for free. This inclusion of websites that gives information on a wide variety that contain, but are not limited to-Health care, business tools, education, and even parenting-The access that Facebook provides, gains it a twofold advantage when it comes to courting African politicians; firstly it provides the constitution it’s material benefits related to the previously mentioned websites access, thereby gaining leverage over their support base. Secondly, it creates a deterrent against African politicians by presenting itself as a force of modernization, because by standing against Facebook and its policies, the politicians run the danger of being painted as having an obsolete world view. Free Basic’s content limitations are highly hyped and was launched primitively as a system for collecting profitable data uses. Moreover, the free data available on Free Basics strikes the user’s curiosity and motivation into paying for data to explore the unavailable sites that can be showed when searching for results but cannot be browsed.
From the start, Facebook made it clear that this system support only a limited portion of sites and phone data, that it doesn’t contain photos, videos. It does not even contain an email platform. Free Basics appears designed to offer users a small slice of what is available on the global internet(Globalvoices, 2017). Facebook’s strategy is for long term outlook, currently they are hemorrhaging money by giving so much subsidies and services towards a relatively impoverish consumer base. The goal of the actions is to not have immediate financial gain, rather to increase the potential user count. Furthermore, Facebook launched Free Basics in Africa where their advertisement insinuate that it’s charge-free, although it’s not really the full global internet where the user is misguided about the importance of other sites as Facebook decides what should the utilizer see and browse; however in a such competitive world market, giving away free data may be an indisputable shrinkage for Facebook, but it has sold it to users expecting them to buy data eventually.
This service was also initiated in Latin America such as Mexico, using a specific mobile model predetermined by Virgin Mobile network, because not all the smartphones are adaptable with this app. Moreover, Facebook’s presence in the Asian markets today is almost none existent for the sole reason that the Chinese government has a policy of both censorship and extreme form of protectionism in its trade policy; adding to its restriction in India, laying claim to the violation of network neutrality that can evoke imbalance in the Indian market and prevent the Indian citizens to scoop out the real potentials of the global web. However, this Facebook’s initiative has been a felicitous launch in Philippines and Pakistan and many other Asian countries for millions of people where it provided its featured services such as access to jobs, education, health infos and communication tool which is mainly Facebook.
As this offer spread around the world in many pensionary countries including Africa, Mexico, Philippines, India, Pakistan and a lot of others; which when opening the app, the operators were not required to identify any informations such as their age, location, even their names, however particularly in Pakistan users were obligated to insert their location and were exceedingly encouraged to insert their Facebook sign up infos. Additionally, Mexicans who chose to log out of their Facebook account were required to answer such unusual questions as “Are you Sure?”.
Facebook is an intelligible beneficiary segment that provides this portion of the internet to the disconnected parts of the world in attempt to sell user data to advertisers worldwide through Free Basics, where it can be a huge success for Facebook.
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Through the past few years, Free Basics have brought almost more than 25 million people online and have changed their ways of living by impactful techniques. For instance, in Africa students are doing better in schools and universities and some are building new businesses on Internet.org; moreover, some are working on staying healthy and in shape. This service offers the African great deals of life changing systems but it limits their conception over what the full global internet can offer, as Facebook decides what they can browse and what is important to search about.
Free Basics as aimed at the ‘poor people’-Who have no connectivity- is a kind of digital representation of colonization, where the choices of free system users are shaped and limited into what Facebook decides and settle for. To add the uneven distribution of informations and knowledge may be assented to be a new type of digital control.
Moreover, Facebook designed this app in a way that is able to record metadata in it, such as the interests of users and their daily browses, as it’s a condition to be able to benefit from the system in the first place that it seems to be an exploitation of people’s privacy and thereby a digital colonization.
Backchannel.(2016, Feb 2).’How India pierced Facebook’s Free Internet Program’. Medium. Retrieved from https://elearn.lau.edu.lb/bbcswebdav/pid-198976-dt-content-rid-615301_1/courses/JSC_224_11_201810/How%20India%20Pierced%20Facebook%E2%80%99s%20Free%20Internet%20Program.pdf
Dr Shiva, Vandana. (2015, Dec 29). ‘Free Basics’ will take away more than our right to the internet’. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@drvandanashiva/free-basics-will-take-away-more-than-our-right-to-the-internet-4d39422fe122
Solon, Olivia. (2017, July 27). ‘It’s digital colonialism’: how Facebook’s free internet service has failed its users’. Theguardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/27/facebook-free-basics-developing-markets
Globalvoices. (2017, July 27). ‘Free Basics in Real Life’. Advox. Retrived from https://elearn.lau.edu.lb/bbcswebdav/pid-198981-dt-content-rid-615302_1/courses/JSC_224_11_201810/STUDY_FreeBasicsinRealLife.pdf