Facebook Rebrands Internet.Org App As “Free Basics”

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Rebrands Internet.Org App As “Free Basics”.

From being just a social media platform, Facebook is transforming itself as an enabler of Internet access through various initiatives aimed at reaching the next billion users.Facebook’s Internet.org program, intended to supply free Internet to people in developing countries, is renaming its app “Free Basics”—and allowing developers greater flexibility in creating apps for the platform.”We want to make it clear that the apps you can use through Internet.org are free, basic services that can give you access to essential resources like BabyCenter,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post, referring to a community for advice and support on pregnancy and parenting.

But after testing it, the 24-year-old student from a mining town on the eastern edge of Borneo soon deleted the app, called Internet.org, frustrated that he was unable to access Google.com and some local Indonesian sites. Over half the world’s population – 57 percent or 4.2 billion people – still does not have access to the Internet, a report from the Broadband Commission for Digital Development says.

Called Wi-Fi Express, the initiative is part of Facebook’s Internet.org platform as it looks to expand its user base beyond the saturated markets in the US and Europe. Launched in 2013, Internet.org initially (and controversially) provided access only to Facebook and content from select partners; earlier this year, however, it was opened up to all developers, albeit with a number of limitations. Current Android app users can continue without interruption; the mobile Web version, meanwhile, will redirect from the previous URL to FreeBasics.com. It has also added 60 new services, such as English Dost (for learning English), MeraDoctor (for health), M-Kisan (for farmers) and Skymet (for weather forecasts). Since Mr Zuckerberg’s announcement of the $US1 billion project two years ago, Facebook has launched Internet.org in 19 countries across Asia, Latin America and Africa by teaming up with mobile carriers and technology giants including Samsung Electronics, chip maker Qualcomm and telecom-equipment firm Ericsson.

Launched in February, Internet.org started out as a service meant to connect those who do not have Internet connections, to the social media network, as well as websites such as Wikipedia, ESPN, BBC, Reuters, ClearTrip, AccuWeather and Dictionary.com. If a user tries to view content that isn’t included in Facebook’s free package, they are asked to pay for a data plan—prompting users and advocacy groups to call Internet.org’s truncated services a violation of net neutrality. Facebook first announced plans for the Internet.org Platform in May, and “over the past few months, developers have adapted their services specifically for the Internet.org Platform requirements,” the organization said. Facebook says that through the initiative, in which it is also experimenting with drones and satellites to deliver web access, some nine million people have come online. Users with data-enabled feature phones can access a special website through a mobile browser, while those with smartphones can download the app from Google’s Play Store.

We are working on various business models to help the local entrepreneur get returns and turn investors in the project in the long term,” Seth told BusinessLine. Internet.org is also getting a security upgrade. “We already encrypt information everywhere possible, and starting today Internet.org also supports secure HTTPS web services as well,” Zuckerberg said. Though arrangements vary by country, the Internet.org app typically provides a simplified, low-data version of Facebook, its Messenger service and selected local websites offering services like jobs, health information and sports updates. Facebook has developed a low-cost software that will help hotspot operators at the village level do the billing and also alert consumers about data usage.

In an official statement, Facebook said: “We’re making this change to better distinguish the Internet.org initiative from the programs and services we’re providing, including Free Basics.” So the Free Basics app and Freebasics.com are basically service providers under the Internet.org initiative. Facebook teamed up with local providers to give users access to things like Wikipedia, some job listing sites, select weather, sports, and news outlets, and, naturally, Facebook and Facebook Messenger. While some applaud the internet initiative, the company is dealing with a backlash from users in some of its fastest-growing markets like Indonesia and India, which are key to its future expansion. The service is positioned a bit differently from Airtel Zero and that reflects in the emphasis on making the content compatible for low bandwidth and low-cost devices, which may find it difficult to run all these apps separately. Zuckerberg announced in July a plan to increase Internet access with a giant drone, but debates on net neutrality continued because Facebook’s program offered select content and providers through the free app, leaving it in a “moral grey area,” according to VentureBeat.com.

Zuckerberg insisted he was just trying to get people connected, but ultimately announced that Facebook would open Internet.org to anyone who could build an app that didn’t eat up too much bandwidth. “Connectivity isn’t an end in itself. It’s what people do with it that matters—like raising a healthy family,” Zuckerberg said. “We hope the improvements we’ve made today help even more people get connected—so that our whole global community can benefit together.” The social network along with other tech companies like Amazon and Twitter are members of the US industry group internet association, which advocates for net neutrality, among other issues. Simply put, users with a Reliance mobile connection can access all the services that form part of Free Basics without paying extra for data charges or rentals.

Facebook wants to be seen as a pioneer “of the open and free internet and not the opposite”, said Neha Dharia, an analyst at telecommunications research firm Ovum. Facebook and the Internet.org plan have a “big role to play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of India,” he said, and the program had given one million people access to health information in the last month alone. “In April, I went to India and we heard the feedback from the community there that they felt that the platform was not as open as it could be to developers,” Mr. Facebook, however, is confident that its initiative will become one of the key projects addressing connectivity issues not just in India but other emerging markets. “Initial data coming in from the hotspots installed in India suggests that this model will work. Daniels told the Economic Times. “So what we did is we opened up Internet.org so that any developer can develop an application that a person coming online for the very first time can use.” On his Facebook page, Zuckerberg announced the change alongside photos of “Asif Mujhawar, a soybean farmer from rural Maharashtra, India,” who has been using the free BabyCenter app from Internet.org for health tips with his two daughters.

Asked whether the change was related to criticism of the project, a Facebook spokeswoman said that the name will “more intuitively describe the product to consumers”. Most of the comments on this announcement were positive, though several Indians noted that farmers in Maharashtra probably worried more about putting food on the table than their Internet access. In India, travel website Cleartrip, news channel NDTV and a mobile news app recently pulled their content from the platform amid concerns over net neutrality.

In interviews with more than a dozen users in Indonesia, where Internet.org launched in April, many said they weren’t interested in the app or weren’t happy with the selection of websites. The aircraft has the wingspan of a Boeing 777 and is built to stay airborne at 60,000 feet for many months, connecting a large area over which it hovers.

Search results on Ask.com — which is available via the platform in Indonesia — can be viewed free of charge, but users incur a data fee when clicking through to websites not included in the initiative. Explaining the rationale behind Wi-Fi Express, Yael Maguire, Head of Connectivity Labs, Facebook, said: “In countries such as India we have realised consumers in rural areas have about $25 a year to spend on communication needs.

It is difficult to meet that cost level and that’s why we are researching technologies that will address this challenge.” Another project Facebook is experimenting on is using lasers to transmit data. Facebook’s use of certain security protocols on the Web version of Internet.org had led to some concerns; with Free Basics, a part of that issue has been addressed by allowing the use of Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) on websites, something that wasn’t available on the Web version earlier.

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