Facebook Promised Free Internet Access, But…

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Facebook deals with mobile operators in countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines to attract new users, allowing low-income earners to use the limited version of Facebook to browse other websites without data charges. I did it.

Many users cost just a few dollars a month for phone services and small amounts of internet data, and often have cheap, prepaid mobile plans.

Facebook software issues have been recognized for months and have failed to be fixed, so people using the app in free mode will be able to use the data from their local mobile operator. You are being charged unexpectedly. Often, they only discover this when the prepaid plan runs out of funds.

In an internal document, employees of Facebook’s parent Meta Platforms Inc. acknowledge this as a problem. Billing for Facebook’s free services “violates our principles of transparency,” employees wrote in a note in October.

In the year ended July 2021, mobile operators will charge users of Facebook’s free data products monthly, up from about $ 1.3 million in the previous year when purchasing power adjustments were made. It has increased to a total of $ 7.8 million. Facebook document.

The document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal was written in the fall of 2021 and is not part of the information published by whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager.

Facebook calls this issue a “leak” because paid services are leaking to free apps and services. The internal document leak is defined as follows: Although these users actually pay for the data themselves. “

A Meta spokesman said Facebook received reports from users about data breaches and investigated them. “We have been working hard to solve the problems we identified,” he said, with the company mitigating most of the problems and the work going on. Spokespersons have labeled the new version of Free Mode as “text only” and prominently display the word “Free Mode”, but the previous version is still in use. He said the company is working on an update.

A spokeswoman said users in free mode would be notified when they signed up that the video wasn’t free. You’ll be notified that you’ll be charged when you click on a video, but it doesn’t always work. He said Facebook is working to fix it.

A spokeswoman said the estimates for additional monthly data charges were not based on billing information from carriers. He said the estimated overcharge would be just over $ 3 million a month without adjustments to purchasing power.

Facebook Promised Free Internet Access, But Users Were Charged Anyway

A document that asks management for additional resources for employees to tackle the problem states that the problem is “easy to dismiss” because Facebook’s partner mobile operator hasn’t been hurt. It benefits carriers by offering additional $$. “

According to the document, unexpected billing is one of some concerns employees have about Facebook’s efforts to bring people online in places with limited financial and technical resources. Called Facebook Connectivity, this program is one of the company’s key efforts to achieve continued growth.

Facebook user growth is stalled in prosperous countries, and almost all new Facebook users in recent years come from developing countries. These countries represent the company’s greatest growth opportunities: poor but populous countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Brazil and much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Facebook builds new Wi-Fi services, extends internet cables to new locations, trades with mobile operators and uses low bandwidth versions of Facebook and other websites to attract new users We are investing in programs that bring people online by being able to. An inexpensive smartphone that does not charge for cellular data. (If the user is connected to a Wi-Fi network, the user will not be charged for the data.)

According to Facebook’s internal documents, the free mobile data program will help Facebook gain 10.6 million new monthly users worldwide in the second half of 2021.

In Asia, Facebook’s top market has a population of 1 billion, “50% of this population isn’t connected yet,” one executive said in a May document during a journal report on last year’s Facebook file series. I wrote that I reviewed it. The surface of potential customers, “he said.

Facebook’s goal is to increase the number of Asians going online each month through its initiative by 10 times the current 1.65 million in the 12-18 months from May 2021.

According to another document, one of Facebook’s goals is to create a “positive and positive story” for the company and improve its “reputation among key audiences.”

Launched in collaboration with mobile operators, the free service is appealing to users such as Zafar Iqbal, a 35-year-old high school teacher living in the city of Muzaffarabad in the Kashmir region of Pakistan. Cellular data is expensive compared to Pakistan’s wages, and Mr. Ikubal said the free offer would allow him to communicate without paying.

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Last fall, Ikubal said a friend pointed out that prepaid data had been exhausted after using the free app. Iqbal said he started tracking data usage. He said he would pay 500-600 rupees (a little over $ 3) per month for phone data. He found that when using the Facebook app in free mode, about 100 rupees worth of data seemed to be exhausted in four weeks.

“In the developing countries where I live, this is very expensive,” Ikubal said. His job pays him about $ 175 a month, so the fee is considerable.

In Pakistan, users of Ikubal’s mobile operator Telenor Pakistan will be charged $ 14,736.96 worth of data daily when Facebook is in free mode, according to Facebook documents. Telenor did not respond to the request for comment.

According to Facebook documents, users of all Pakistani carriers are charged an estimated $ 1.9 million each month for data that appears to be free, more than any other country. According to the document, this problem has occurred in about 20 other countries, with the Philippines and Indonesia having the highest estimated tariffs after Pakistan.

The document condemns the technical problem. Video, which is a major waste of data, is not expected to be displayed in free mode. However, according to the documentation, about 83% of the estimated overage is from the video that is displayed due to a bug in the Facebook software, or if you watch the video that is displayed, you will be notified of the charge. According to the documentation, this issue has grown significantly in recent months.

The document also shows that as part of negotiations with mobile operators, social media giants will force phone customers to purchase data plans via the app. This is easier than visiting a mobile operator’s website or retail store, and you can buy data while looking at Facebook, so you can access more Facebook content. The document calls it a way to get mobile operators into the program and allow them to “monetize their customers” through Facebook’s free app.

Facebook is also helping businesses move their customers from prepaid services to Western-style monthly plans by serving customers through the app. With these plans, which Facebook and phones call “loans,” users are billed after consuming data, and companies see this as a way to increase usage.

In Nigeria, according to an internal document, Facebook is helping career MTN NG by “displaying loans to as many people as possible by increasing the loan eligibility parameters” in the app. People also pay for cell phone data, according to what the document calls “upsell analysis.”

The practice of pushing “loan” data plans through apps developed to provide free internet services is dangerous, former Facebook led a program in developing countries before leaving the company in November 2020. Executive Brian Borland said.

“The overall point of trying to provide these services is to provide them to people without many means,” he said. “”

Facebook’s program of connecting the world’s poor to the Internet has been criticized by scholars, open Internet advocates, and governments. In some cases, there are criticisms that Facebook prefers its own service over other websites. Facebook has responded for the past decade by providing a wide range of access to the Internet with a free service.

In India, the government banned one of the programs in 2016, violating the principle of net neutrality or the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally without prioritizing individual services. Said that.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, defended the project in 2015 and wrote in an Indian newspaper:

In some countries, including Peru and the Philippines, Facebook offers a free data program called Discover. Facebook has publicly stated that Discover cannot consume data-intensive content such as video and audio, but it can access any website.

An internal document reviewed by the Journal, according to a study at the University of California, Irvine, found that Facebook content was easily available on Discover, but content on other websites was not. These documents are in an internal Facebook audit of the program that Discover found to be “not working in line with its commitment” to treat all websites equally and allow text to be viewed from any website. Also mentions.