Facebook’s FreeBasics Fails At Basics

In the ‘internet advertising’ business model driven world, it’s all about controlling the web traffic and having access to billions of user base. Google with its lion share of search engine traffic market and smartphone market (w/ Android) – both almost 80% is the most attractive platform for marketers and advertisers right now.

Facebook, with a similar advertising-led business model, is partnering with carriers (data traffic pipes) in emerging markets to rope in traffic and users from next billion of the population to its own platform. Facebook, in short, like Google, wants to also have a greater control over the internet traffic, learn about the consumers’ habits building its “Social Graph” which can make a much more attractive case for marketers/advertisers from scale and well targeted adverts perspective compared to Google.

Free Basics is now live in Free Basics is now live in 30 countries with 34 operators. Facebook claims to have more than 19 million users using and being benefitted by FreeBasics. While this is true, there are still lots of freeriders on the platform and is not actually being adopted with open arms by so targeted the unconnected population. Technically, the Free Basics program just provides access to Facebook and partner sites on the Internet.org platform and not actually the entire web.Its actually a stripped down version of even the facebook.com or other partner sites. Nothing in this world is for free, users on Free Basics platform are actually the products.

As a result, with Facebook banned in the world’s biggest market, China, and now its bet on the second most populous market India to control the internet traffic roping in hundreds of millions of users through its “free basics” program has become elusive with the ruling from TRAI, the Indian telecom regulatory body, that its violates “net neutrality”. Hence, its a big blow to Facebook’s plan and rope in the next billion users.

The “Free Basics” potentially borders on infringing the net neutrality. The “business model” is seen to have a high potential for “preferential treatment” in future to drive traffic to Internet.org platform partners and not actually providing “free internet” to the entire web. Hence, Facebook has now to develop another way of roping in the next billion of users which are yet to connect to the internet.

Facebook while doesn’t have a platform such as Android where it can deeply integrate its cloud and services into mobile phone to learn and target users but if it could beef up its hot properties such as Whatsapp into a holistic powerful platform would prove to be cleaner and viable strategy.

We have already seen how Tencent, Naver, Kakao Talk have almost replaced Google services and taken a greater share of time spent by users on the internet, Facebook has to thus finally decide if it can do the same at global scale with Whatsapp or FB Messenger, which we believe is a better transparent and visually less devious strategy.