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Jana’s “Free Data” service mCent shuts down; Browser to continue

Note: This post has been updated following a clarification from mCent

There’s only so much that advertising can support.

mCent, an application from Jana that gave free recharges for browsing the Internet is shutting shop. No new offers will be available for users starting July 1st, and the application will shut down completely on 1st of August 2017, and removed from the Google Play store. mCent allowed users to collect points for installing and trying apps, which could be exchanged for free mobile recharges. Users could buy talktime, data, or both. mCent competed with the likes of Gigato from Mavin, which also has an SDK that apps can integrate for providing users with shopping vouchers, restaurant coupons, movie tickets, and mobile wallet credits.

Jana had raised $57 million last year from Verizon Ventures, Spark Capital, and Publicis Groupe. In March, Jana claimed to have had more than 30 million users on mCent. The company also claimed to have partnered with more than 3000 brands like Amazon, Saavn, Twitter, and WeChat, and more than 300 mobile carriers worldwide for its data cashback platform.

Update: mCent informs us that while the application will shut down, the mCent browser will continue. We checked, and according to the Google Play Store, the mCent browser app had between 100,000 to 500,000 downloads. Essentially, this is a switch from the mCent app to the mCent browser. At the time of the launch of the mCent browser, the company had told us that the app is “integrated into the backend billing systems of every major [telecom] operator in India.”

The statement from mCent:

The mCent app will be shutting down over the course of the next few weeks. Beginning 1 July, you’ll only be able to complete offers that you have already started. The app will be shut down completely on 1 August, 2017. It will also no longer be available on Google Play.

You can still top up with your mCent balance before 1 August, 2017.

mCent model as a Net Neutrality violation

Zero Rating (making some sites free while others are paid) and the data cashbacks model has been controversial in India, for its violation of Net Neutrality. TRAI had issued recommendations in December which allowed apps like mCent and Gigato to provide data cashbacks to users. While the models proposed by mCent and Gigato, and allowed by TRAI, were different from Zero Rating, especially Facebook’s (banned) Free Basics which restricts access to a few websites, we (at MediaNama) had argued that cashback models had the same effect of violating Net Neutrality that Free Basics had:

If a user has 100 MB data left for consumption. In a zero rating scenario, if a user uses the equivalent of 10 MB, she will be left with 100 MB, and the 10 MB is reimbursed as it is being used: i.e. for every byte used, a byte is given back immediately​. In a data-reimbursement scenario, the usage is metered and the user is given 10 MB back, but after a short period of time, or upon completion of a target amount of usage. The effect is the same, and the user still has 100 MB, and the website or app which was used has been zero rated. Thus, this recommendation to allow third party aggregators to reimburse for data usage effectively goes against the intent of the differential pricing regulation, and should be seen as a net neutrality violation.

More here.

MediaNama’s full submission is here.

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Disclosure: I was a co-founder of the Net Neutrality campaign in India, and am also the co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation. The views expressed here are independent of the campaign and IFF. 

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