Facebook has partnered with mobile carriers in developing countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Pakistan to give users free access to Facebook and a few other websites, but users have been unknowingly charged by their mobile carriers, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
The service, called Free Basics, is offered through Meta Connectivity (formerly Facebook Connectivity) and is supposed to provide users with “free access to communication tools, health information, educational resources, and other low-bandwidth services.” The program has been in existence since 2013, and as of October last year, it has served more than 300 million people.
In an internal report reviewed by the WSJFacebook reportedly knew that users had to pay for months to use Free Basics, calling the problem “leakage” because it occurs when paid services begin to overlap with what’s free. And since most of the users that the program serves have a prepaid phone plan, many of them don’t realize they’re being charged for using mobile data until they run out of money. The WSJ notes that Pakistan users have been charged the most for using Facebook’s “free” internet, totaling $1.9 million, with about two dozen other countries also affected.
The problem seems to stem from Facebook’s software and user interface (UI), with videos at the root of the problem. Videos aren’t supposed to appear on Free Basics, but bugs in Facebook’s software have caused some to slip through the cracks. Notifications to inform the user that they will be charged for watching videos also do not appear. According to the documents viewed by the WSJFacebook found that about 83 percent of the unnecessary costs come from these videos, which really shouldn’t appear at all.
Facebook says it has largely resolved the issue since then. “We tell people that viewing photos and videos incurs data charges when they sign up, and we do our best to remind people that viewing them can incur data charges,” said Drew Pusateri, a Meta spokesperson. The edge. “The issue identified in the internal report that affected some of those memories has been largely addressed. We will continue to work with our partners to fulfill our obligations to these users and to ensure accurate and transparent data charges.”
As indicated by the WSJ, Facebook’s growth has largely stalled in developed markets and is only increasing in countries with low connectivity. Facebook acts in these countries not only as a social site, but also as an internet provider. It has implemented its own Wi-Fi in all these countries and has also introduced Facebook Discover, a feature similar to Free Basics, which offers limited free data every day. India banned Facebook’s Free Basics service in 2016 for violating its values of net neutrality.