Facebook recently partnered with mobile carriers in developing countries including those from Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines, to grant free access to Facebook and a few other services. However, according to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, users have been unknowingly charged by their mobile carriers for using Facebook’s “free” services.
Meta Connectivity, formerly known as Facebook Connectivity, offered the service known as Free Basics and was supposed to provide “access to communication tools, health information, education resources, and other low-bandwidth services,” free of cost.
Meta Connectivity has been operational since 2013 and as of October 2022, serves over 300 million people. Yet, an internal report by the Wall Street Journal states that Facebook reportedly knew users were being charged to use the Free Basics services for months. Facebook referred to the issues as ‘leakages,’ as the issue occurred when paid services started to overlap with free ones.
Pakistani Users Were Robbed The Most
Most users in developing countries make use of prepaid phone plans, and hence many do not realize they are being charged for using mobile data until they have run out of funds. WSJ notes that Facebook users in Pakistan have been charged the most, at a total of $1.9 million, and the issue has also affected two dozen other nations.
The root cause of the issue appears to be Facebook’s software, User Interface (UI), and videos on the platform. While using Free Basics, videos are not supposed to appear, yet bugs in Facebook’s software let a few videos pass through. Notifications alerting users that they will be charged for watching the videos also failed to appear due to the glitches.
Facebook “Fixed” The Issue
As per WSJ, Facebook was aware that about 83% of the additional charges on mobile data were from videos. Facebook claims to have since fixed the issue.
Meta spokesperson, Drew Pusateri, in a statement to The Verge, stated:
We tell people that viewing photos and videos will result in data charges when they sign up, and we do our best to remind people that viewing them may result in data charges. The issue identified in the internal report that affected some of those reminders has largely been addressed. We’ll continue to work with our partners to meet our obligations to these users and ensure accurate and transparent data charges.
The Wall Street Journal aptly highlighted that Facebook’s recent growth has come mainly from low-connectivity countries, while it has been stagnant in developed ones.
Acting as both a social media platform and internet provider in low-connectivity countries, Facebook has deployed its Wi-Fi services and introduced Facebook Discover. Similar to Free Basics, Facebook Discover grants users limited free data every day. While some countries including India banned Facebook’s Free Basics service in 2016, claiming that the service violates the values of net neutrality.
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