After sustaining heavy criticism that led to several partners pulling out their services, Facebook's Internet.org app has now been rebranded as Free Basics. Together with the name change, key changes with regard to service eligibility for enlistment on the app were implemented.
Internet.org, a Facebook initiative that materialized through the social network's partnership with leading technology companies, aims to connect the world and provide Internet to everyone, especially those in regions that lack proper Internet access or have no Web access at all.
"We have multiple projects - whether it's drones, satellite communications, laser technology, express Wi-Fi or free basic services, which is our program that we offer," Chris Daniels, Internet.org vice president, told India Express. "Free basic services with partnerships with operators, to people."
While Facebook's plan to deliver Internet to remote areas via satelite and drones is a futuristic goal, Internet.org is currently focused on providing better Internet service in regions with limited Internet speeds - those running on 2G bands.
In partnership with network carriers, Internet.org launched its own app that aims to provide free Internet access. The app lists services that users can freely use without getting charged for data consumption.
In a press release, Internet.org reported that more than a billion people in Asia, Latin America and Africa have access to the service.
Problems with Internet.org
Although the cause sounds noble, the app did not proceed unscathed. The initiative was bashed publicly due security, privacy and net neutrality issues.
The previous version prior to the rebranding did not offer HTTPS, which is more secure than HTTP.. Having no secure browsing option did not sit well with a lot of people.
The app also earned the ire of net neutrality advocates because only the entities that pay the network carriers will be listed on the app. Hence, it creates an environment where the small players cannot compete with the might of bigger enterprises, which violates the core principle of net neutrality - service providers enabling access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg tried to address the conflict with net neutrality. However, no matter how much the words get twisted, the elephant in the room still existed. And thus, the 31-year-old billionaire failed to sway people's minds.
The Basics of Free Basics
With the Internet.org app rebranded as Free Basics, an easier distinction can now be made between the entire project and the app
As mentioned, along with the rebranding, some of the key issues that were previously raised against the app were also addressed.
Free Basics now provides HTTPS for both the mobile and web versions. Data will be encrypted as it passes between Free Basics servers and any device that supports HTTPS.
Service enlistment was also opened to everyone, not just to those who can pay. As long as a developer follows the specifications laid out in the Free Basics technical and developer guidelines, the services will be listed.
The same points were raised by Mark Zuckerberg on his own Facebook page.
In the same interview with India Express, Daniels specified that Facebook does not pay the service providers and "no money changes hands." However, "the commercial benefit for service providers is that people move on to paid services soon," he noted.
Photo: Maurizio Pesce | Flickr