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F8 Conference: Internet.org releases new tools for Free Basics

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Facebook has released two new tools for application builders for Free Basics during the 2016 F8 conference. Although Free Basics was banned by the TRAI in February earlier this year, the service is still operational in 37 countries. The company revealed that the Free Basics programme now has 500 applications and 25 million users.

In November 2015, Mark Zuckerberg told analysts that there were one million Indians accessing the Internet via Free Basics. In India, Facebook has partnered with Reliance Communications to provide Free Basics.

Facebook’s tools

– Facebook’s first tool is a simulator that allows developers to test the functionality of their services as they would perform on Free Basics. Facebook’s engineers have been ensuring that applications can work on 2G networks.

– There’s also Demographic Insights for Developers now available, which helps websites “better understand the types of people using their services on Free Basics.” The service helps developers “to tailor their content for relevant populations” (*cough cough* more ads?).

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Free Basics’ lobbying in India

Facebook had been lobbying to get support for its Free Basics service in India since its launch. It launched multiple print, television, telephone and digital campaigns (see hereand here), where it started placing ads in the middle of users’ timelines on mobile apps. When clicked, users were redirected to a Change.org petition which asked people to support Free Basics.

In December 2015, the company’s latest campaign asked its Indian users to send an automated email to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) stating that they supported Free Basics. However, the TRAI told Facebook that its campaign was a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll” which did not answer the questions it had asked in its September consultation paper on Differential Pricing.

Shutdown in Egypt

In December 2015, Egypt shut down Free Basics in the country. A recent report by Reuters said that Facebook refused to to give the Egyptian government the ability to spy on users. Free Basics was given a trial period of two months with carrier Etisalat from the Egyptian government.

Disclosures: MediaNama has taken a strong position in favor of Net Neutrality and against price discrimination

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Updates: Story was edited for clarity and grammar

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