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Research report

Free Basics in real life

27 Jul 2017
CREATORS
When Facebook launched its 'Free Basics' app aimed at helping people without Internet access, they said that the app would serve as an “on ramp” to using the whole global Internet. This research by Global Voices suggests that in contrast to this claim, the app primarily serves the needs of Facebook and other corporations, compromising user experience in order to achieve business objectives.

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Description

Facebook’s Free Basics program aims to help bridge the digital divide through a mobile-based platform that allows users to connect to a handful of online services free of charge. In a vision statement for the program, Facebook surmises that “[by] introducing people to the benefits of the internet” they will help justify the cost of mobile data and thereby “bring more people online and help improve their lives.”

The program has been the subject of controversy since its inception, reviving the debate over open access and the digital divide.

With a few exceptions, the voices of the program's users, along with those of local experts on ICT and access to knowledge in the countries where the program has been launched, have been underrepresented in these debates.

This study aims to begin correcting this imbalance, to increase the public, ICT and digital rights sectors’ knowledge about the utility of Free Basics and to encourage further research on the topic. Our team of Global Voices contributors hailing from six countries in the Global South tested and evaluated the Free Basics app and reviewed existing literature about it in their countries. We measured Free Basics against a collectively developed set of benchmarks concerning usability, quality of connection, language and accessibility, content, and company policies. We conducted all of our research locally from within the countries where Free Basics is deployed, assessing the app within the local and cultural context where it is offered.

Our research casts doubt upon Facebook’s contention that this technology is truly serving as an “on ramp” to the global internet. Our case studies illuminate systemic features of Free Basics' user interface, content offerings, and technological architecture that strictly limit the tool's utility for many people within the populations that the company claims to reach. We also conclude that Free Basics' architectural and content limitations are largely artificial and exist primarily as a mechanism for collecting profitable data from users.

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PUBLICATION DETAILS

Resource Type: 
APO URI: http://apo.org.au/node/100156
Alternative Title: 
Six case studies on Facebook's internet "On Ramp" initiative from Africa, Asia and Latin America
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License Type: 
CC BY-SA