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Who can be against us? Facebook starts the year in an aggressive mood


© Flickr/cc-licence/MaurizioPesce

  • India’s TRAI to rule of legality of Free Basics service this month
  • Facebook CEO demands to know: “who could possibly be against this?”
  • Messenger now has 800m users a month
  • 2016 to see “the disappearance of the phone number”

You’ve got to feel sorry for the hard-working Mr Zuckerberg. There he is, reading two books a month, learning Mandarin and meeting a new person every day. This year, he has given himself the additional challenge of creating “a simple AI to run my home and help me with my work”. So imagine how upset he must be when he realised that not everyone buys into his idea of zero-rated “Facebook as Internet” services for emerging nations via his Internet.org project.

The Facebook CEO has faced a huge backlash in India over his rather controversial Free Basics Internet service. So much so, that he penned an opinion piece in the Times of India at the end of December to defend the service.

“If we accept that everyone deserves access to the internet, then we must surely support free basic internet services,” wrote Zuckerberg. “That’s why more than 30 countries have recognized Free Basics as a program consistent with net neutrality and good for consumers. Who could possibly be against this?”

Who indeed? And how outrageous that anyone should speak out against this obviously superb idea? Surely there can’t possibly be, er… how shall we put this, “differences of opinion”?

Well, hold on to your macrobiotic shakes, because, as Zuckerberg writes; “Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India.” He continued; “This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests” despite that fact that, no surprise, Facebook is included in the essential services portfolio, “if people lose access to free basic services they will simply lose access to the opportunities offered by the internet today.”

And so he goes on. You can read it all here if you wish. India’s regulator, the TRAI, is expected to rule on the legality of the service later this month – against a full-on media marketing blitz by Facebook to rally supporters to petition for its continuation.

What did the phone number ever do to you?

Meanwhile, Facebook has also just declared war on the humble phone number. Writing on the company’s blog at the end of last week, David Marcus, VP of Messaging Products at Facebook, said that 2016 would see “the disappearance of the phone number”.

Marcus was obviously buoyed by the success of the company’s Messenger service, which he says now has 800 million users each month, even though “these are still the early days” of the service.

“SMS and texting came to the fore in the time of flip phones,” wrote Marcus, somewhat inaccurately, “and just like the flip phone is disappearing, old communication styles are disappearing too”. Well, that’s somewhat subjective as well, and we prefer the word “evolving” thank you very much.

“With Messenger, we offer all the things that made texting so popular, but also so much more.” Warming to his theme, Marcus added: “Yes, you can send text messages, but you can also send stickers, photos, videos, voice clips, GIFs, your location, and money to people. You can make video and voice calls while at the same time not needing to know someone’s phone number. You don’t need to have a Facebook account to use Messenger anymore, and it’s also a cross platform experience – so you can pick up where you left off whether you’re on a desktop computer, a tablet, or your phone.”

Unfortunately, Marcus was unable to provide an exact date for the disappearance of the phone number, all we know is that it will be sometime this year. So our advice for you all is to stay alert, be sharp, and keep a watchful eye on your number. If it suddenly disappears and you are left with no option but to turn to the Internet – er, sorry, we meant turn to Facebook obviously – then you can’t say we didn’t warn you.

It feels like the end of an era. Perhaps we should hold a big party? But perhaps Facebook is wrong and phone numbers won’t disappear this year? No, that can’t be an option. After all, who could possibly be against anything Facebook does or says?

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