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Only 20% of 800k Internet.org users in India are new Internet users; Questions for Facebook

Internet.org cmn

Fresh information from Facebook on its Net Neutrality violating platform Internet.org: the company says that it has 800,000 users in India, but only 20% of those are new Internet users. Facebook has a partnership with Reliance Communications, and the service, available in seven circles (Mumbai, Maharashtra & Goa, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala), is being advertised as “Free Internet”. BGR.in reports that new users are using over 100 mb per month outside of Internet.org, while ET Tech adds that 7% of total data usage is on Internet.org.

Our Take

1. Existing users mostly using Internet.org and its implications: The fact that as much as 80% of users of Internet.org are those who have used the Internet before indicates that a majority of the users of Internet.org are not new Internet users. The terms and conditions on the Reliance Communications’ website (see point 3, here) indicate that those who are already subscribed to data packs will not be charged if they use Internet.org:

If Customer is subscribed to Data Plan/Packs when he uses Internet.Org, then for Prepaid GSM & CDMA Users, there will be NO depletion from their data quota or from Main Account balance on using internet.org. For Postpaid GSM Users will NOT be charged for internet.org & their data quota will not deplete, but on PCRF this usage will be accounted for.

If the agenda for Reliance Communications is that it wants users to buy data packs, then why is Internet.org being offered to existing data pack subscribers? It’s worth noting that Indonesian telecom operator XL Axiata had quit Internet.org in April, citing two reasons: firstly the protests against Internet.org in India*, and appeared to believe that Internet.org was unable to help upsell data plans. Techinasia reports:

XL was not satisfied with the performance of this card, which they hoped would eventually lead to an increase in consumer interest in XL’s data plans

By offering free Internet.org, our sense is then that RCOM also wants to pull in users from competing telecom operators and retain existing users. This will create a situation wherein other telecom operators are pushed to Zero Rate some Internet access, and perhaps choose either Internet.org, sites like Twitter, or Google, who have previously done Zero Rating deals with telecom operators.

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2.How does Facebook define New Internet users? It’s also not clear as to how Facebook has ascertained whether people who have signed up have never used the Internet before: whether they are new Facebook users, or new RCOM users, neither is indicative of new Internet usage. We’ve written to Facebook for a clarification, and will update in case they respond.

3. RCOM and its dependency on Internet.org: Reliance Communications had 31.4 million data connections at the end of last quarter, which would most likely have increased by now. Internet.org, at best, accounts for 2.5% of Reliance Communications’ user base. As this grows, so will RCOM’s dependency on “Free Facebook”. It’s worth noting that RCOM also has “Free Facebook Fridays” for Zero data for Facebook users, as a part of the relationship between the telco and the Internet company.

4. Regarding new users using 100mb of data outside of Internet.org we can only hope that adequate disclosures are being made to them that they’re being charged. In Indonesia, where users believe that Facebook is the Internet, it comes with the following disclosures:

It’s also not clear whether usage of images and videos on Facebook are considered to be usage of the open web.

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Our questions for Facebook: 

1. How much is the data usage in MB, of Internet.org sites among RCOM users? The BGR story mentions 100 MB of data usage for RCOM. Also please clarify whether its MB or Mb.
2. How do you ascertain which users are new Internet users, and which aren’t? The reports mention new Internet users acquired by Internet.org. Are these merely new Facebook users and/or new RCOM subscribers, in which case they aren’t necessarily new Internet users.
3. What kind of disclosures are made to users when they leave Internet.org, to access the rest of the web?
4. Does Facebook count usage of video and images while on Internet.org sites (including Facebook) as usage of the web? Is this included in the 93% of the consumption that Facebook claims was not a part of Internet.org?

Also read: Millions of Facebook users have no idea they’re using the internet

For a detailed criticism of Internet.org, read:
1. Facebook’s Internet.org platform is a privacy nightmare: tracks users on partner sites, allows telcos to track. Read here.
2.  Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg Regarding Internet.org, Net Neutrality, Privacy, and Security. Read here.

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