Facebook’s free internet service launched in developing nations and low socio-economic areas more than five years ago to provide people with free access to some online services. But many people are being charged small amounts for using data by their cellphone providers while using the apps in free mode — altogether amounting to millions of dollars every month in the year ending July 2021, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Meta made note of the issue last year, calling it a breach of its transparency principle in an October memo, according to the Journal report Monday citing internal company documents.
The problem was described in the internal documents as “when users are in Free Mode and believe that the data they are using is being covered by their carrier networks, even though these users are actually paying for the data themselves,” the Journal said.
“In collaboration with mobile operators, Free Basics provides access to communication tools, health information, education resources and other low-bandwidth services,” Meta says on its Free Basics page.
Meta didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the Journal it has mitigated the issue and “continued work trying to resolve” it. Users are told when they sign up that videos aren’t free, the spokesperson told the Journal, and are supposed to get a notification that they will be charged when clicking on a video, but it sometimes doesn’t work — and Facebook is working on fixing this.
Facebook was previously criticized for its free internet service in India in 2016, when internet rights groups said Free Basics violated net neutrality principles and provided only “partial access to the internet.”
“If you think access to the internet is a right like access to health care and clean drinking water,” the letter said, “then Facebook should support affordable access to the entire internet for everyone, not access only to those services that Facebook or its partners deem acceptable.”
The service was already available in 36 countries at the time, but Facebook Free Basics was cut off in India a month later.
You can read the entire report by The Wall Street Journal here (subscription required).