Equal Internet

India's internet regulator just called Facebook's Free Basics campaign 'crude' and 'dangerous'

TRAI said the social network had tried to turn the policy consultation paper into a 'majoritarian' opinion poll.

Facebook has made more than its fair share of mistakes in attempting to introduce its Free Basics platform in India, as a top official admitted to Scroll in December. Now things have got worse. In a letter to the social networking behemoth, India's telecom regulator has criticised Facebook's attempt to respond to consultative policy exercise into what the government body called a "crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll".

The letter, dated January 18 and addressed to Facebook's Direct of Public Policy in India, turned up on Twitter on Tuesday evening and showed up on an official URL of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India. In it, the regulator expressed "deep misgivings" about the manner in which Facebook had attempted to respond to TRAI's consultation process on telecom policy that would have impacted Free Basics, an initiative from the social media giant that offers a limited version of internet to people for free while violating net neutrality principles.

Majoritarian and orchestrated

"Your urging has the flavor of reducing this meaningful consultative exercise designed to produce informed decisions in a transparent manner into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll," the letter from the regulator said. "Equally of concern is your self-appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who have sent responses to TRAI using your platform."

The regulator found reason to criticise Facebook primarily on its campaign responding to those who have criticised Free Basics. Initially introduced as Internet.org early in 2015, Facebook was forced to rejig its plan to give away a limited version of internet for free after criticism that it violated net neutrality and essentially offered a poor internet for poor people, which also allowed Facebook to pick and choose which services would be permitted.

Free Basics campaign

The company returned, renaming the product to Free Basics and insisted that it was an open platform that allowed anyone to come on board, but internet activists still fought back saying it would distort the market and violate net neutrality.

In response, Facebook unveiled a massive marketing campaign, buying full-page ads in newspapers and space on billboards, to convince people that Free Basics was not malicious. Further, the social networking giant also prompted users on its platform to send a message to the TRAI, which had issued a call for public consultation, supporting Free Basics.

What Facebook did wrong

This is where things started to get even worse for Facebook.

First TRAI wrote back saying the consultation paper was not about one specific product, such as Free Basics, but about the policy on differential pricing altogether. TRAI rejected the 14 lakh messages sent by people from Facebook's platform, forcing the social media company to draft new responses while the regulator extended its deadline.

TRAI also asked Facebook to get back to all the people who had initially written in in support of Free Basics, to ensure they knew that they were writing to support a particular policy on differential pricing, not broadly supporting a Facebook product. TRAI's letter to Facebook claims that the social media company did not explain whether it had contacted people about this, forcing the regulator to infer that it hadn't done so.

Next, TRAI pointed out that Facebook did not inform it, for up to 25 days, that no email could be delivered to the designated email for receiving responses on the consultation paper, which it later complained about.

Wholly misplaced

Then, the regulator also complained about Facebook's insistence that the 14 lakh emails that were earlier sent should still be considered appropriate responses, saying this is "wholly misplaced". Bringing up the differences in responses, TRAI reminded Facebook that its earlier template does not address the questions in the consultation paper.

This is where it brought up the issue of Facebook treating the entire process like a majoritarian opinon poll and added:

"Neither the spirit nor the letter of a consultative process warrants such an interpretation which, if accepted, has dangerous ramifications for policy-making in India."

The regulator finally brought up the fact that Facebook's email didn't explicitly authorise it to speak on behalf of all the people who used its template, since it didn't ask for consent, and instead only agreed to let Facebook send their name and email address to TRAI.

"Needless to say," the regulator added, "at no point of time does this mean we will not take into account any relevant user... as part of the consultation process."

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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The incredible engineering that can save your life in a car crash

Indian roads are among the world’s most dangerous. We take a look at the essential car safety features for our road conditions.

Over 200,000 people die on India’s roads every year. While many of these accidents can be prevented by following road safety rules, car manufacturers are also devising innovative new technology to make vehicles safer than ever before. To understand how crucial this technology is to your safety, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a car accident.

Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.
Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.

A car crash typically has three stages. The first stage is where the car collides with an object. At the point of collision, the velocity with which the car is travelling gets absorbed within the car, which brings it to a halt. Car manufacturers have incorporated many advanced features in their cars to prevent their occupants from ever encountering this stage.

Sixth sense on wheels

To begin with, some state-of-the-art vehicles have fatigue detection systems that evaluate steering wheel movements along with other signals in the vehicle to indicate possible driver fatigue–one of the biggest causes of accidents. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is the other big innovation that can prevent collisions. ESP typically encompasses two safety systems–ABS (anti-lock braking system), and TCS (traction control system). Both work in tandem to help the driver control the car on tricky surfaces and in near-collision situations. ABS prevents wheels from locking during an emergency stop or on a slippery surface, and TCS prevents the wheels from spinning when accelerating by constantly monitoring the speed of the wheels.

Smarter bodies, safer passengers

In the event of an actual car crash, manufacturers have been redesigning the car body to offer optimal protection to passengers. A key element of newer car designs includes better crumple zones. These are regions which deform and absorb the impact of the crash before it reaches the occupants. Crumple zones are located in the front and rear of vehicles and some car manufacturers have also incorporated side impact bars that increase the stiffness of the doors and provide tougher resistance to crashes.

CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.
CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.

Post-collision technology

While engineers try to mitigate the effects of a crash in the first stage itself, there are also safe guards for the second stage, when after a collision the passengers are in danger of hitting the interiors of the car as it rapidly comes to a halt. The most effective of these post-crash safety engineering solutions is the seat belt that can reduce the risk of death by 50%.

In the third stage of an actual crash, the rapid deceleration and shock caused by the colliding vehicle can cause internal organ damage. Manufacturers have created airbags to reduce this risk. Airbags are installed in the front of the car and have crash sensors that activate and inflate it within 40 milliseconds. Many cars also have airbags integrated in the sides of the vehicles to protect from side impacts.

SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.
SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.

Safety first

In the West as well as in emerging markets like China, car accident related fatalities are much lower than in India. Following traffic rules and driving while fully alert remain the biggest insurance against mishaps, however it is also worthwhile to fully understand the new technologies that afford additional safety.

So the next time you’re out looking for a car, it may be a wise choice to pick an extra airbag over custom leather seats or a swanky music system. It may just save your life.

Equipped with state-of-the-art passenger protection systems like ESP and fatigue detection systems, along with high-quality airbags and seatbelts, all Volkswagen cars have the safety of passengers at the heart of their design. Watch Volkswagen customer stories and driver experiences that testify its superior German engineering, here.

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This article was produced on behalf of Volkswagen by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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