Facebook Q/A sessions- officially called Town Halls, are eagerly waited events. When Zuckerberg announced that he’d be holding a Town Hall while his visit to India.
Facebook actually had to organize a lottery to ensure everyone got a fair chance at attending the program! Finally, with 900 attendees which included students, developers, university professors, Facebook’s Indian Town Hall was held last night at IIT, Delhi.
Understandably, a lot of the questions were directed at Facebook’s operations in India, particularly, the Internet.org initiative. In fact, the first question to start off the sessions was: “Why are you showing so much interest in India? Answer honestly.”
It’s not really difficult to understand why Facebook might be interested in India though. After all, the country, with its large population and increasing mobile and internet penetration rates, represents a still largely untapped market. Moreover, since a significant amount of this population does not have proper access to internet, Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, re branded now as Free Basics, could become very big.
Despite earlier criticisms and misgivings about the Internet.org project, Zuckerberg insisted that the project is here for good: “In India, a million people have access to internet because of the work we do”, he stated in an answer to a question concerning free internet and net neutrality. He also added, “Absolutely! Net neutrality is an important principle and we are doing a lot to push it. So with Free Basics, we are letting developers offer zero-rated services. This is powerful. We are not being a filter of any content going through that.”
“Absolutely! Net neutrality is an important principle and we are doing a lot to push it. So with Free Basics, we are letting developers offer zero-rated services. This is powerful. We are not being a filter of any content going through that.”
Nevertheless, despite his assurances, Indians mostly remain unconvinced about the merit of zero rating certain websites and apps under the ‘Free Internet’ banner.
The major argument lies in the fact that offering only a handful of websites and apps for free severely limits the scope of the internet, and websites and developers with strong financial backing can manage to crowd out small firms who may not be able to partner up with Facebook on this project.
There is also the argument that by pushing such a form of free internet, Facebook is actively trying to control the internet.
Apart from questions regarding net neutrality, people were interested to know about Facebook’s research into VR- which prompted the response ‘exciting things are coming!’, and also when can we stop receiving Candy Crush requests.
Oh and there was also one person who wanted to know what superpower Zuckerberg would have if aliens from outer space decided to gift him one!