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Report: Facebook offered poor countries free internet and then charged them for it

Facebook’s Free Basics program had a problem that the company didn’t solve

SHARE Report: Facebook offered poor countries free internet and then charged them for it
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a conference at the Mobile World Congress.

In this March 2, 2015 photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a conference at the Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile phone trade show in Barcelona, Spain. Zuckerberg likes to boast that his 3-year-old effort to connect the developing world to the Internet has reached millions of people in some of the world’s poorest nations. But a central element of his Internet.org campaign was controversial even before it was shut down in a key market this month. Indian regulators banned one of the pillars of the campaign, a service known as Free Basics, because it provided access only to certain pre-approved services - including Facebook - rather than the full Internet.

Manu Fernandez, Associated Press

In 2016, Facebook made a promise — free internet for the world’s poorest countries. While the social media company benefitted, those who are underprivileged were left with big bills that collectively added up to millions of dollars a month, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The company made deals with cellular carriers in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines to allow low-income people to use a limited version of Facebook, called Free Basics, along with a select few websites without incurring data charges.

  • These users often have inexpensive phones, costing a few dollars a month.

But software problems at Facebook, which weren’t corrected for months, led to unexpected charges by local cellular companies for using data, according to The Wall Street Journal.

  • Videos, which aren’t included in the limited version, slipped through the cracks and became the root of the problem, accounting for 83% of unnecessary charges.

Meta — the parent company of Facebook — responded to the report, explaining what happened.

  • “We tell people that viewing photos and videos will result in data charges when they sign up, and we do our best to remind people that viewing them may result in data charges,” said Drew Pusateri, a Meta spokesperson, per The Verge. “The issue identified in the internal report that affected some of those reminders has largely been addressed. We’ll continue to work with our partners to meet our obligations to these users and ensure accurate and transparent data charges.”

Currently, the company has deployed its own Wi-Fi throughout these counties and introduced Facebook Discover, a similar program to Free Basics.