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TRAI unsubscribes to Facebook’s Free Basics campaign

Continuing its exchange of letters, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) called Facebook’s campaign to garner support for its Free Basics as “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.” In a letter dated January 18th, TRAI continued its scathing remarks and said that Facebook method of collecting answers for its Save Free Basics campaign did not have the consent of its users.

“Equally of concern is your self-appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who have sent responses to TRAI using your platform. It is noticed that you have not been authorized by your users to speak on behalf of them collectively. No disclosure in the act of sending a message to TRAI using your platform to this effect has been issued to users. The only act users have consented to is the following: ‘By clicking send email, you agree to let Facebook send your name and this email to the TRAI’,” the regulator said in its letter.

TRAI added that in its view that this did not imply consent on part of the user allow Facebook to speak on their behalf. The letters are a continuation from the previous releases by TRAI which said that it did not get responses in support of Free Basics in time.

TRAI clicked unsubscribe to Facebook’s emails

In a letter dated January 13th, Facebook’s director of public policy Ankhi Das said that the TRAI blocked emails coming from Facebook on December 17th. “Our inquiry revealed that on December 17 at 05:51:52 GMT, an individual with access to the TRAI email account designated to accept comments (advisorfea1trai.gov.in) took action that blocked Facebook from delivering any additional emails to that address,” Das said in the letter, adding that this was accomplished “by unsubscribing from receiving all further emails from Facebook, effectively requesting that Facebook cease delivering emails to the address.”

TRAI fired back at Facebook for not bringing this to its notice. “TRAI should have been informed immediately for proper steps to be taken,” TRAI said. “It is surprising that it took over 25 days for you to inform TRAI of this.” The regulator pointed out a similar issue that was brought to its notice, and fixed, earlier in the consultation process.

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Das also claimed that 16 million Facebook users sent comments to TRAI supporting Free Basics, and 40 lakhs of these answered the specific questions asked by the regulator, with the company has made available to the TRAI via a dropbox link. Many of these responses were supportive of FreeBasics, but attributed to mobile numbers (via Facebook’s missed call campaign), and Facebookmail email addresses (via Facebook’s platform), and not directly sent by respondents themselves.

TRAI will still take into account Facebook’s responses

Nonetheless, TRAI said that it will accept all the comments and responses collected by Facebook. The regulator said that a meeting was held between TRAI chairman RS Sharma on January 14th where they assured that answers to this will be taken into consideration. Facebook submitted the responses in support of Free Basics  via a DropBox link and a pen drive.

“Needless to say, at no point of time of time does this mean that we will not take into account any relevant response, including comments and counter comments submitted by Facebook qua (in the capacity) a stakeholder, or any user using Facebook as a platform as part of the consultation process,” TRAI’s letter signed off.

Related links

– TRAI asks Reliance Communications to pause Free Basics: report

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– Facebook releases new set of responses in support of Free Basics

Why has the TRAI issued another Net Neutrality consultation paper?

– Facebook launches email campaign to support Free Basics; more misinformation?

Disclosures: MediaNama has taken a strong position in favor of Net Neutrality and against price discrimination; Founder and editor of Medianama Nikhil Pahwa is a volunteer with the SaveTheInternet coalition.

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