ASCI on Free Basics ads: "We expect Facebook's reply by early next week"

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital
Published : December 28, 2015
The Advertising Standards Council of India has received several complaints against Facebook's print and outdoor ads for its Free Basics initiative. As advocates of net neutrality speak out against the initiative, ASCI prepares to deal with the incoming complaints.

Facebook has been facing heat from the digital fraternity since the launch of its 'Free Basics' initiative in India in February this year.

Here's how the social networking giant defines Free Basics:

"Free Basics by Facebook provides free access to basic internet services to a billion people all over the world. Your service can be part of it. Free Basics makes the internet accessible to more people by providing them access to a range of free basic services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication, and local government information. To date, we've been able to offer these services to a billion people across Asia, Africa and Latin America. By introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these services, we hope to bring more people online and help improve their lives."

Globally, Free Basics was launched two years ago.

However, through Free Basics, only Facebook's partner websites and applications can be accessed. This has irked advocates of net neutrality, who have spoken out against the initiative across Twitter and other public forums, online.

In response to this backlash, Facebook began promoting Free Basics even more aggressively through highly visible print and outdoor ads. Titled 'Save the Free Basics', the campaign managed to grab a lot of eyeballs.

The print and outdoor ads (see images) target Indians across the socio-economic strata. A recent full-page print ad in a leading national daily, talks about a farmer and his family that benefited from Free Basics, as it helped them access the internet and consequently make informed decisions about their produce.

"... Free Basics is at risk of being banned, slowing progress towards digital equality in India. Show your support for Free Basics now and help India move forward," reads the copy, urging people to support for Free Basics by dialling a number.

Another print creative features two young men with the accompanying message: "A connected India means 65 million new jobs."

Meanwhile, an ad that's part of Facebook's outdoor campaign shows a henna-smeared hand; the copy reads "Support the Connected India."

ASCI, through its official Twitter account, responded to one of the complaints against Facebook's Save the Free Basics ads, and promised swift action.

Shweta Purandare

Speaking about the issue, Shweta Purandhare, secretary general, ASCI, tells afaqs!, "We will send the details of the campaigns to advertisers and seek a response from them. We expect their reply by early next week. After that, it will be taken up in our Consumer Complaints Council."

Facebook launched the Free Basics initiative in India in February this year by partnering with Reliance Communications. The telecom major offered the Free Basics service through a 'Freenet' button on mobile phones. However, the Telecom Regulator Authority of India (TRAI) has asked Rcom to put a halt on the Free Basics service.

Apart from media campaigns, Facebook has been urging its users to send a pre-drafted mail to TRAI requesting them to 'Save Free Basics'.

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