Tawanda Mashava

All things, without fear, and informational

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Facebook's Free Basics: The Other Side

So, according to TechZim, Facebook will be launching its Free Basics service in Zimbabwe in January 2016. Oh, good thing, I mean, what else would be better than having the Internet, the World Wide Web (WWW) of information, available even to the poorest areas of Zimbabwe and poor Zimbabweans, for FREE, yeah, you heard me right, for FREE, not some bundles or other such marketing gimmicks as we have been used to being provided by our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Econet and Telecel. After all, this service has already been launched in some African countries.

According to Facebook, a number of SELECTED basic services will be offered to the Zimbabwean community for free, and these basic services include websites or apps that deal in health, education and so on. This should be a welcome development, as important information about such things as health will be available to the masses for free, a situation better than the current situation where only those with the money to buy data can access such information. The overall aim is to make anyone and everyone, especially the poor, access such basic information, thereby bettering their lives.

For the Poor, but not for the Poor

Sarcastically.....Yes, access to internet is going to better the lives of people who have no access to sanitised toilets, toothbrush, basic healthcare, education, have no source of income, no chances of mobility. This can be considered a dangerous proposition, giving people with no access to basic rights information on what could be, without allowing them the remotest chance to be a part of that which they will desire.
The poor need the basics, Sanitized toilets, and not the internet
Raising poor people's aspiration, by providing them with internet access, must be met with opportunities to pursue the aspirations, otherwise its plain cruuelty. If we are going to be honest with each other, these poor communities rarely use the internet for productivity, but for chatting, music and videos, whilst we might not necessarily want to dictate what anyone uses the internet for, this free access will create an even greater demand for such services as Facebook, thereby distracting the productivity of these communities, whilst increasing the marketing value of Facebook, via the aptly named Free Basics (FB as well)

Net Neutrality

The issue of Net Neutrality has been discussed and exhausted, but I will highlight it again here. A lot of us Zimbabweans might not understand what Net Neutrality is, so I'll take the definition from Wikipedia:
Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. (Wikipedia, 31 Dec 2015)
Let me further explain what this means, Anyone should have access to any website or web resource, at the same price.

This probably still doesn't make sense to some, so let me give an example of clear violation of the principle of Net Neutrality: Econet offers Facebook and Whatsapp Bundles, at a cheaper price than accessing other sites per Megabyte. This means people on Econet platform are more likely to visit their Facebook than many other platforms and websites on the Internet. (Facebook is not the Internet, and the Internet is not Facebook)

So what is the problem with you being granted access to information or apps that you use everyday at a cheaper rate than others that are not so useful websites or apps? Everything. For starters, it makes the playing ground uneven, consider a small Zimbabwean startup that has developed an app to compete with Whatsapp, who will use that app if accessing it is more expensive compared to accessing the established brand? The internet should be open, and access should be fair so we can all compete at the same level.

The worst thing, in reference to Net Neutrality and the Free Basics service, is that Facebook and the ISPs decide what is basic. We do not need Internet Gatekeepers. This hand-picking of services to be included will obviously lead to discrimination against other services not on the list, especially those of rivals, take the case of Econet's Ownai a classifieds platform that is zero rated from an Econet line, it makes it unfair on other such services as www.classifieds.co.zw, and eventually will kick out smaller rivals out of business, leading to monopolising certain sections of the Internet.
Yes, they will decide what we can, and what we cannot access!

Privacy Issues 

 Facebook basically is in the business of selling data, your data, to those who want to market their products and services, they are not in the business of connecting you with your loved ones, they only use that as bait. Now allowing all services that are accessible via Free Basics's data to pass through Facebook's servers simply means we are giving them more data than they can collect via their Social Networking platform, Facebook itself, and they will make money using your data, without your consent.

A better explanation of the dangers of this is given by the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Science in their statement criticizing Free Basics:
This flaw is not visible to the lay person as it’s a technical detail, but it has deep and disturbing implications.  Since Facebook can access un-encrypted contents of users’ ‘basic’ services, either we get to consider health apps to be not basic, or risk revealing health records of all Indians to Facebook.  Either we get to consider our banking apps to be not ‘basic’, or risk exposing the financial information of all Indians to Facebook.


Whilst Free Basics seems a very noble idea, and will obviously come with some immense benefits to the Zimbabwean population, we need to be worried, lest allowing them to run such services will eventually give them access to almost all data on all Zimbabweans. Whilst this might seem far-fetched, Facebook can eventually become stronger than the Government:


  1. This is also an opotunity for us. About collecting data google have been collectibg our data for so long now. and they have everything. i dont think its a big issue provided that we can decide what they see and what they cant see.

  2. net neutrality doesn't exist and these tech giants just want to fleece us of our data so they make money off of us without our consent. in this era data = money and FB, Microsoft and Google are just milking it.

    1. Lets access all platforms at the same rates, simple!

  3. Some companies worked very hard to be where there are today. Some people then suddenly start talking about neutrality equality and all this fair propaganda. It just does not work that way. FB developed a website they are now commercializing and I see no problem with that. socialism failed wayback. Econet work hard to be where there are today then suddenly share infrastructure. My foot! FB is not valued at Billions for nothing. You need FB and FB needs you. Google pay researchers to develop the best network so they can make money, not just for you to browse for free! they have high end developers to pay!

    1. Did you even get the argument here? We all applaud those companies for the tremendous work they have done to get where they are, no one can take that away from them, but here we are talking about net neutrality, did you get that?

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