Facebook Caught in Fee Controversy for Free Mobile Service

Facebook finds itself the subject of yet more unflattering allegations, this time claiming the company gouged people in third world countries by charging them for services it had said would be free when making deals with cellular carries in the areas. Internal documents are said to have surfaced indicating that after promising to let low-income citizens in places like Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines use a pared-down version of Facebook along with some Internet browsing without incurring data charges, the Meta Platforms company wound up charging, in total, millions of dollars a month.

“Many of the users have inexpensive cellphone plans that cost just a few dollars a month, often prepaid, for phone service and a small amount of Internet data,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

“Because of software problems at Facebook, which it has known about and failed to correct for months, people using the apps in free mode are getting unexpectedly charged by local cellular carriers for using data. In many cases they only discover this when their prepaid plans are drained of funds. In internal documents, employees of Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. acknowledge this is a problem.”

Charging people for services Facebook initially positioned as free “breaches our transparency principle,” one employee wrote in an October memo obtained by WSJ, which specifies that these new documents were written in late 2021 and are not from the tranche made public last year by whistleblower Frances Haugen.

“In the year ended July 2021, charges made by the cellular carriers to users of Facebook’s free-data products grew to an estimated total of $7.8 million a month, when purchasing power adjustments were made, from about $1.3 million a year earlier, according to a Facebook document,” WSJ writes.

Facebook attributed the discrepancy to “leakage,” claiming paid services mingled in with the free app and services and users became confused. When users of the service are accessing the Free Mode, they “believe that the data they are using is being covered by their carrier networks, even though these users are actually paying for the data themselves,” the internal Meta documents explain, according to WSJ.

A Facebook spokesman told WSJ that users of the Free Mode “are notified when they sign up that videos aren’t free. They are supposed to get a notification that they will be charged if they click on a video, but it doesn’t always work” and Facebook is trying to fix that. The problem, WSJ says the documents state, is “’easy to dismiss’ because Facebook’s partners — the cellular companies — aren’t being hurt. ‘In fact,’ the document says, ‘it’s benefiting carriers by giving them additional $$$.’”

This is not a good look for Facebook, which was virtue-signaling by trying, in the words of WSJ, “to bring people online in places with limited economic and technical resources.”

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