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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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What to look for when buying your first car in India

Hint: It doesn’t have to be a small car.

When it comes to buying their first car, more Indians are making unconventional choices. Indian car buyers in 2016 are looking for an automobile that is a symbol of their aspirations and sets them apart from the herd. Here are a few things you should consider when buying your first car:

Look beyond small cars

According to the JD Power India Escaped Study (2015), the percentage of new-vehicle shoppers who considered a small car reduced by 20% over three years—from 65% to 45%. Buyers are now looking at bigger, affordable cars and luckily for them, there are more choices available. Known as compact sedans, these cars offer the features of a sedan, are larger than hatchbacks and contain a boot. These sedans offer the comfort and features that once only belonged to expensive luxury cars but at a price that’s within the reach of a first-time car buyer.

Design and styling is important but don’t forget utility.

It’s a good idea to have a car that has been designed over the past three years and doesn’t look outdated. Features like alloy wheels and dual beam headlamps add to the style quotient of your vehicle so consider those. Additionally, look for a car with a sturdy build quality since Indian urban conditions may not always be kind to your car and may furnish it with scrapes and dents along the way.

Image Credit: Volkswagen
Image Credit: Volkswagen

Does it test-drive well?

In 2014, 35% of new-vehicle buyers researched vehicles when they were buying but by 2015, this number had risen to nearly 41% according to the JD Power study. While the internet is the primary source of research in India, the best source of information about a car is always a test drive. Listen to the sales person and read all online reviews, but test every feature to your satisfaction.

Where do you plan to drive?

Look for a car that’s spacious and comfortable while being easy to drive or park on our crowded city roads. Compact sedans are perfectly suited for Indian driving conditions. Some of them come with parking assistance and rear view cameras, rain sensors and front fog lights with static cornering that are excellent driving aids. If you plan to use the car for long drives, compact sedans that provide cruise control, a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and a front centre armrest would be perfect. On road trips with family members who usually pack more than necessary, extra elbow room inside and good boot-space is a blessing.

Is the model about to be discontinued?

Never buy a model that is going to be discontinued because it could result in difficulty finding spare parts. Buying an old model will also affect your resale value later. In 2015, according to the same report, 10% of shoppers considered newly launched car models as against 7% in 2013—a strong indication that newer models are being preferred to old ones.

Diesel or petrol?

Diesel and petrol cars have different advantages, and it’s best to take a decision based on the distance you plan to drive on a regular basis. While petrol cars are usually priced lower and are more cost effective when it comes to service and maintenance, diesel cars typically have better mileage due to higher efficiency and provide a smoother drive due to higher torque. Additionally, diesel is the cheaper fuel. So it makes more economic sense to buy a diesel car if you are driving long distances every day.

Most importantly, safety always comes first.

Look for a car that is built sturdy and pays extra attention to safety features like Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), side impact bars and dual front airbags. Safety is also a function of the design and features such as a galvanized steel body add to the strength of the build. It’s important to remember not to make trade-offs on safety for less important features when choosing variants.

Buying your first car is an important milestone in life. And the new Volkswagen Ameo has been designed with several first-in-segment features to cater to all the needs of a first-time car buyer in India. Its bold design and elegant styling along with state-of-the-art features like cruise control, reverse parking camera and sensors, and intelligent rain sensors set it apart from other cars in its class. Its safety features are also a notch above, with dual front airbags that are standard in every variant and side impact bars. A sturdy galvanized steel body and laser welded roof cocoon its passengers from harm, and its modern ABS, that is also standard in all variants, prevents the wheels from locking when you brake hard. A six-year perforation warranty and a three-year paint warranty ensure that the car body is protected from scratches and dents. The Ameo comes in both petrol and diesel variants. Check out all the features of the Ameo here. Also hear the experience of two first time car buyers in the video below.


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

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