Facebook opens Internet.org to all developers in India: A quick look at the rules

Amidst the backlash in India, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has decided to loosen the grip on free Internet service in India. This doesn't mean, Internet.org is now out of India, but it simply becomes an 'open' platform for all.

Amidst the backlash in India, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has decided to loosen the grip on its free Internet service in India. This doesn't mean, Internet.org is now booted out of India, but it simply becomes an 'open' platform for all.

So, Facebook says any website can be accessed for free via the service. However, it isn't as simple as it sounds. The social network has a long list of rules and regulations including it will only support websites that ditche HTTPS, JavaScript and other important things.

In its official Facebook post, the company has jotted down the guidelines that website accessing Internet.org should follow:

1. Explore the entire Internet (but how?)
Facebook writes that the Internet.org platform is aimed to give people valuable free services allowing them 'to discover the entire wealth of online services and, ultimately become paying users of the internet'. Hence, participants 'should encourage the exploration of the broader internet wherever possible'. However, it doesn't really mention what exactly it expects from participating websites to encourage it.

2. Who can't participate
Websites that require high-bandwidth won't be a part of the Internet.org service. It further mentions that services with VoIP, video, file transfer, high resolution photos, or high volume of photos can't be a part of the service.

"Operators have made significant economic investments to bring the internet to people globally, and Internet.org needs to be sustainable for operators so that they can continue to invest in the infrastructure to maintain, improve and expand their networks," Facebook explains.

3. Tech specs
Participating websites should be built to optimise browsing on phones as well as smartphones, and work in limited bandwidth scenarios.

Websites should also be properly integrated with Internet.org to allow zero rating and so should not require JavaScript or SSL/TLS/HTTPS. There's also a list of technical guides. Check it here.

Evidently, Facebook's new guidelines don't really make it an 'open' platform. Looks like, the rules help to simply remodel what Facebook always had on its mind. Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama writes, "No matter what Facebook says about Internet.org being a means of promoting Internet usage, it isn’t. It’s a fundamental, permanent change in the way the Internet works by splitting it into free vs paid access."

He also points out at major security issues. "Without https (secure content), this means that telecom operators will also be able to snoop on your users, and through them, so will the government. Is Privacy a small price to pay for free access to a directory of services?," he said.

The problems just don't end here. Using Facebook's Internet.org means everyone has to comply to the social network's rules and policy. Firstly, Facebook gets non-exclusive rights to your content. Then, every user accessing websites via Internet.org will require a Facebook account.

So, every Indian going online will have no choice but to create a Facebook account. This would also mean, if your competitor is on Internet.org, you will have no choice either.

"The reason why Times Internet publications remained on Internet.org was that their competitors are also there. If one competitor chooses to come on board, you will have little choice but to also follow, else lose out on a potentially large user base. This gives Facebook access to data from across websites," he explains further.

The report suggests that if Internet.org really wants people in India to get online, then subsidising data packs of Rs 10-100 and allowing them to access whatever users want, could be a solution.

Last month, Trai received overwhelming response with over 11 lakh emails in support of Net Neutrality.  The responses are now out on its website and open to counter comments until May 8.

Meanwhile, the volunteer group, SavetheInternet, is requesting that in the absence of a recommendation from TRAI and any decision from the government, telecom companies should be restricted from rolling out any plans and services that violate Net Neutrality. The group has also requested support from political parties as the issue impacts both the freedom of access to the Internet as well as survival of thousands of Internet-enabled Indian startups trying to Make In India.

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