Search giant Google has quit the Facebook’s zero rated platform Internet.org (now renamed FreeBasics), a Google spokesperson has confirmed to MediaNama. Google had signed up for Internet.org in Zambia in July 2014, and according to a Facebook representative, had been live on the platform as of two weeks ago (screenshot below). In a response to a query by MediaNama, a Google spokesperson stated that:
Google is not a partner in Free Basics or Internet.org. However, we were included in the initial trial of this project, which was first launched in Zambia.
At the time of filing this report, Facebook hadn’t responded to MediaNama, despite emails, text messages, and the company spokesperson didn’t return our calls. We’ll update in case they respond. On January 6th, Mike Buckley, Facebook’s VP of Global Business communications had pointed out that Google was still listed on the Free Basics platform in Zambia, and shared a screenshot of Google’s presence on FreeBasics.
Google’s official confirmation of it no longer being present of FreeBasics comes a couple of weeks since then, indicating that over the last two weeks, Google has moved out of FreeBasics. On being asked by MediaNama, the Google spokesperson declined to comment on when exactly they left Internet.org/FreeBasics, but confirmed that they are no longer live on the platform.
Zero Rating of individual sites and platforms is a violation of Net Neutrality, since it allows telecom operators to make some sites or platforms cheaper to access than others. Google exiting FreeBasics follows a statement in favor of Net Neutrality by Google CEO Sundar Pichai on his India trip; when asked about his views on Net Neutrality, Pichai told The Economic Times that:
“Net neutrality has been hugely critical to the way Internet has developed. 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.
We’re very committed to it. Google benefitted a lot from having strong net neutrality in place. As we all evolve over time, it’s really important that the core principles of fair and open Internet, which is very, very pro-users…Those principles need to stay.”
Facebook’s Internet.org VP Chris Daniels said last month that the company would be happy to have Twitter and Google+ on the FreeBasics platform. Facebook does not list its partners in the countries where FreeBasics operates, but a list of Indian partners is available here. The Financial Times states that Facebook claims to have 15 million Free Basics users in 37 countries. In May last year, it was reported that Internet.org claimed to have 800,000 users in India, but only 20% of those were new Internet users.
Google’s stance on Zero Rating has changed
In August last year, Google had lobbied to get opposition to Zero Rating removed from IAMAI’s net neutrality submission, like Facebook had done previously. It has done zero rated deals in India, notably with Airtel, running FreeZone services. The company was planning to roll out its own Zero Rated service in India, but put plans on hold after Net Neutrality protests, especially those against Airtel Zero.
The change in Google’s stance also evident in the fact that when it comes to its projects, like Loon and RailWire WiFi, Google has said that people would be free to access anything they wanted on the internet without special zero-rated services.
Facebook is also setting up free WiFi hotspots in India in partnership with BSNL.