Advertisements, Facebook and Free Basics

So here it begins in India!

Be it any medium -right from old age stone-scriptures to modern Internet - one thing is clear that every medium has finally became a medium of advertisement (and propaganda). The simple reason is the places where people gather, talk, discuss, share are obvious choice to put notices, hoardings and ads! Be it main square of town or religious places -like church or temples- these were prime places where important things were ‘announced’ and discussed by masses thereafter. Gradually medium shifted to “Print” i.e. Newspapers. Soon newspapers took place of other mediums for sharing of news (that too more accurate, faster and with pictures/evidences) along with advertisements. In some period, Advertisements became primary “Revenue” for newspapers and readers turned to be indirect customers — i.e. customers for those advertisers and not the newspaper directly!

After Radio started taking that place, the advertisement got its own “Voice” but it lost its words and pictures. So for long period, radio became one complimentary advertising medium, along with newspapers.

When ‘Television’ reached sizable population, the advertisers got whole new field to advertise. This time with text, audio as well as video — A complete package!. This created first major dent into Newspapers’ advertising business. Soon Newspapers became secondary advertising medium and Television took that primary spot!

Although, be it public announcements, newspapers, radio or even Television the medium for advertisements was like a “Broadcast”, it was one way communication! Also, when Internet came into play, till late 90’s it was captured by advertisers but it was just another medium for advertisement.

If we discuss about India, Although internet could give audio-visual advertisements, its reach was limited. Remember the time in India (Pre-90s)? when getting telephone line to your home itself was a challenge and matter of immense prestige. Forget about getting internet connection! Most people didn’t know what it is!

This scenario changed soon. If we talk only about India, Three things changed this scenario in India. One which is popularly known as “Telecom Kranti”. Government changed the policies in such a way that getting not only telephone became simpler, but soon it showed its cascading effects which brought tsunami of ‘connectivity’ with ‘affordable’ Mobile phones and 2G plans, which now has progressed further to 3G, 4G and so on!

Second was ‘Economic liberalization’ — government ushered in several reforms that are collectively termed as ‘Economic liberalization’. it not only opened Indian markets which brought in new technology and development, but it also created a very vital thing i.e. huge, gigantic middle-class — a prospective customer for almost every business in the world.

Third thing is birth of Google and Social media. The most modern form of advertisement platform which impacts each of us daily is “Social Media”. As we saw before, the medium of advertisement was just in form of “Broadcast” it was available to all — weather you want that product or not you will see the add if you are at particular place or website. But social media and companies like Google changed the game of advertising completely by ‘personalizing’ advertisements!

If you are a person who like to travel, read and listen to music you will see advertisements of cheap tickets, book sales or new concert in town. But if your friend like to play, dance and hike he will see different advertisements on same website! These modern advertisers know who you are, what is your liking, where you stay, how do you look, what do you eat, what are your hobbies, habits and even what is your sexuality!

So basically, till now we — readers or users — were customers for advertisers Now we have been turned into “Suppliers” of vital data to social media which they sell to various companies to advertise their products directly to “Target customers”! This way product can be sold to those who want to buy them.

E.g. You search for a Hotel, for your next vacation, or any blog for travelogue. Now, Google already have your data. i.e. you are one person of ‘X’ Gender, from ‘X’ city, of ‘X’ age, of ‘a,b,c’ liking and your search provides details that you may be planning a trip to “PQR”. your privous shopping history tells him what all things you already posses and you may want to replace or may want etc. That is it! Google uses this info (i.e. it sells this info) to travel companies, Hotel organizations, travel equipment, ornaments, apparels and what not! Then after that you will only see the advertisements that would help you in your trip.

One would say whats bad in this? — its win-win scenario

Agreed! nothing majorly wrong in this, till this point. Its just you are giving too many personal details to a company that is far away in other country — in return you are getting personalized service. But if you are OK with it no one can take objection to it.

Concern starts when these companies start working with governments just to get more “data suppliers”! Facebook’s “Free Basic” comes into picture here!

Free basic is nothing but giving “Free access” to “selected Basic sites” ! In name of free basic Facebook clearly wants to penetrate and reach to those who cant afford internet, hence getting much more data.

Who has right to select basic sites? users? nah…. its Facebook

Who will get more “data suppliers” due to this ?— which in turn will give them more revenue? — Ofcourse Facebook

What will users get in return? Nothing — rather users will get such internet where visiting some sites is “costlier” than select few. Putting video on certain platform would be cheapetr than others or even reading news from some website (may be a government friendly one!) would be free! (and those website that discuss anti-government issues, some vital policy flaws can be made much costlier)

Is this a really targeted for poor of India — Ofcourse yes. That will bring them under ‘Pool of suppliers’ for social media. That means more fishes to catch in the pond!

Will this really help poor of India — Ofcourse Not. It will just help Facebook and many of private businesses to bombard more targeted advertisements. It will help politicians to create propaganda up-to the root level

Apart from this, there are many other side effects of this. This will give power of selecting what is Basic to some Private organisation. i.e. a organization which you and me cannot control! This has high potential of misuse not only in economics but major impact will be of its use in “Opinion formation” politically.

We don’t want ourselves to be a nation whose policies are getting shaped on the basis of mood on social media which is formed by bombardment of some ‘sponsored’ advertisements on selected “free websites”

Better we can help people to grow and process so that they can pay for costly internet — rather than under name of ‘free’ internet taming them to such private organization from some different country!

Get wise and save the nation! Its time to oppose such move!