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Open to advertising for revenue: VP

NEW DELHI: Facebook's Free Basics program may be open to exploring advertising avenues for revenue at a later date. vice president Chris Daniels hinted at the possibility in a keenly followed Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Saturday with aggressive questioning from Redditors. The hour-long AMA session had nearly 500 comments by the time it was over.

"While we haven't found any business model where ad revenue could pay for people's access to the internet (look at Facebook's revenue, its far, far less than revenue operators receive from data charges), if there is a way that we can do so, then we want to be able to explore that in the future, " Daniels said, responding to a question about the feasibility of such a model, as used by Gigato and Mozilla.

In September this year, the social networking giant had renamed its program to "Free Basics by Facebook." Free Basics is now a part of the larger program. Under Free Basics, telcos and developers can tie up with Facebook by complying with certain tech standards. The services of these developers are then offered without any charge for data consumption to end users.

This practice has been described as "zero-rating, " and has been panned by various activists who say it violates the principle of net neutrality. According to the principle, all data online should be treated equally. This AMA happened on a day when the save the internet campaign, that has taken a vocal stance against Free Basics, crossed the one-lakh figure in the letters sent to the telecom regulator from its platform for an ongoing consultation on differential data pricing.
Simply allotting free data to end users where they are free to use it as they please was an alternate cited by multiple users. "The difference with Free Basics is that we wanted to offer a program that gave people permanent access to a set of free basic services - so that the services were there for them when they were ready to come online -rather than something that was promotional or where they might use their MB allotment, and then the services weren't there when a person needed them, " offered Daniels by way of explanation. When Redditors questioned Facebook's right to reject apps on its platform, Daniels said that the company doesn't "reserve the right to reject apps for arbitrary reasons."
The VP said that Facebook has proposed to NASSCOM and Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) that they conduct a third party audit of their activities. Daniels, counted this willingness as an adherence to the net neutrality principle. Admitting that India was a "challenging" market owing to the resistance it had shown to the program, Daniels said that the reaction prompted the program's rechristening earlier this year. "On whether we changed the name due to feedback from India - yes. It was good feedback. We're always open to good feedback, " says Daniels.
Among the most recurrent questions was about what Facebook has to gain monetarily by the program and the recent aggressive marketing push for it. Daniels put it down to more users coming online and signing up for the network. "Our economic interest is best served by getting people to the full internet in this case. So that's the purpose of the program, " he said, repeating the point elsewhere as well. This was roundly rubbished by Redditors. For instance, mohanred2 wrote: "Nope. Your economic interest is best served by getting people into YOUR PLATFORM (aka customer acquisition). So that you can use the data to sell them ads."
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