Mark Zuckerberg personally responds to ‘Free Basics’ critics in India

Mark Zuckerberg talks about Free Basics

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has personally responded to critics of “Free Basics,” a controversial program that delivers some web platforms for free to customers in the country.

Critics of the program believe “Free Basics” is controversial because it limits which sites a customer can access for free. The program, formerly known as Internet.org, has been called out for developing its own version of net neutrality.

The service provides information on health, travel, jobs and local government. By offering a limited number of apps, and transmitting as little data as possible, costs are minimized.

Facebook is one of the apps included in the service.

Net neutrality stipulates that all Internet content and users should be treated equally. Critics say the program, billed as altruistic, was built to satiate Facebook’s own commercial goals.

“Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims — even if that means leaving behind a billion people,” the Facebook CEO wrote.

“Who could possibly be against this?” he asked.

Mahesh Murthy, a prominent Indian venture capitalist, has called “Free Basics” a lie based around “digital equity.”

“What Facebook wants is our less fortunate brothers and sisters should be able to poke each other and play Candy Crush, but not be able to look up a fact on Google, or learn something on Khan Academy or sell their produce on a commodity market or even search for a job,” he said.

Amod Malviya, the former chief technology officer of Flipkart, called the service a “modern twist to what essentially used to be the white man’s burden — that India’s poor need Facebook’s Free Basics to free them.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has not called out Zuckerberg directly, instead he has promised to deliver free internet access at 400 train stations across India.

“The Internet has been a level playing field and I don’t think we would be here today and have a strong, free and open Internet without net neutrality,” he said. “We’re very committed to it.”

Facebook in the meantime says any website or platform can become part of Free Basics, but only if they follow a stringent set of guidelines developed by the company.