Facebook’s Internet.org Rebranded as ‘Free Basics’

26 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Facebook Opens Up Internet.org With New Free Basics App- Chris Daniels Tells You More.

“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. It comes after criticism because of the limited service for the free program — which some say flies in the face of Facebook’s commitment for “net neutrality,” or equal treatment for all online services.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.Facebook, which has been facing criticism from some quarters in India for its Internet.org service, has opened up its free Internet platform as the Free Basics app.

Mr Gery’s reaction illustrates the unexpected criticism Facebook has encountered to its bold initiative to bring free internet access to the world’s four billion people who don’t have it, and to increase connectivity among those with limited access. Internet.org is a partnership between the social networking company and telecommunication companies where it provides free services such as applications for learning English and providing information to farmers in developing countries. The app and web platform, providing access to over 250 services, is now live in 19 countries including India and will be part of the larger objectives of Internet.org. Current Android app users can continue without interruption; the mobile Web version, meanwhile, will redirect from the previous URL to FreeBasics.com.

But it said that the program can provide important services for health, education and jobs to as many as one billion people in the 19 countries where it is available. He is one of many users who say a Facebook-led partnership is providing truncated access to websites, thwarting the principles of what is known in the US as net neutrality — the view that internet providers shouldn’t be able to dictate consumer access to websites.

The announcement was made at the Facebook Headquarters in Melno Park, California by Chris Daniels, VP of Internet.org, in the presence of a small group of Indian journalists. The Internet.org program itself, meanwhile, is also now open to all developers who want to add their apps and services to the program, a move likely intended to assuage those who had net neutrality concerns.

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. 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. The rebranding comes at a time when there is global debate on the issue of Net neutrality, and whether such platforms (as well as Airtel’s Zero in India) go against that idea.

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. 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. Zuckerberg has also written a post stating how a soybean farmer from rural Maharashtra ‘makes better parenting decisions by accessing expert advice through the BabyCenter app for free through Internet.org.’ He further talks about the ‘improvements’ and the platform being ‘open to all developers’. “We’ve improved the security and privacy of Internet.org.

The app, which has seen more than one million downloads, allows people to browse “selected health, employment and local information websites” without data charges on “a SIM card from a qualifying carrier”. 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. In India, the net neutrality debate and massive public outrage had made many take sides, and some big names like NDTV, Cleartrip and some properties of Times Group decided to part ways with Internet.org as a result.

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 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. 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.

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. 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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