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Facebook Face International Turmoil as France and India Rally Against Them

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Given their size, net worth and consistent rate of expansion, it makes sense that Facebook are by far the most ambitious social media company in the world. Their machinations range from VR to robotics to humanitarian efforts, but it's all geared towards one principle purpose: connecting the world. Where that causes issues is that some would argue that they're really just connecting the world strictly on their own terms.

That policy has caused them a lot of international friction in the past, fighting battles on various different fronts in order to be able to continue operating as they please. Perhaps the largest recent one has been the schism between them and India. Facebook have been trying to establish the nation as the proving ground for Internet.org, their effort to make internet access truly global. The issue has largely been that it's not true internet, it's just what Facebook elect to provide, something which has been regarded as counter to net neutrality.

Now the project, since locally renamed Free Basics to be more reflective of its nature, has been completely banned in India by the Indian Telecoms Regulation Authority. Almost every move Facebook have made to push Free Basics has been opposed by the TRAI, in particular it labeled a poll about the service as “a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”. Zuckerberg responded, expressing his disappointment, but assuring that Internet.org "has many initiatives," and that "That mission continues, and so does our commitment to India."

What killed Free Basics, largely, was Facebook's apparent inability to take public opinion on board. Sure, he met with Narendra Modi, but solidarity with the prime minister of India is not the same as solidarity with the people by any stretch of the imagination (and it certainly didn't help here). Adding to the issue is that Facebook are fighting a battle on two fronts - expanding their reach east, whilst also keeping their reputation secure in the west, particularly in the EU.

There have been several EU investigations into data monitoring on Facebook's part, but developments in France might well constitute the most difficult chapter thus far. Facebook routinely sends user data back to the US, not only from Europe but all across the world. What they do with that data stateside isn't entirely clear, but it probably relates to data-mining and market research more than anything else. Citing the EU safe harbour laws, France have flat out ordered Facebook to stop sending data to the States, and also to stop tracking non-members. 

The order states that under French law, Facebook have no right to be sending personal user data to anyone, particularly in relation to their sexual orientation and political perspective. The non-user data collection largely relates to browser history, as that's one of the things the cookies collect when you visit the site without logging in. All they want as far as that is concerned is a box enabling people to opt in or out of it, but they want the data collection entirely gone.

That being said, none of that is likely to happen in any kind of hurry, as they've given Facebook 3 months to decide, and if they don't take any action in that time, the case goes to a Select Committee. The Indian ban, however, came into immediate effect, and both are indicative of an ongoing issue Facebook have been fielding - they are a global network and many nations have very different ideas about how to police data. Presumably, if Facebook had their way, the site would operate under the exact same parameters across the world, and the long arm of the law would leave them to do as they please, but the world has never worked that way.

Nothing ever became globally successful without making adaptations as it crossed borders and Facebook is no exception. It is, without doubt, the most popular social media platform of all time, but cultural and societal boundaries will continue to crop up and without showing that they are willing to co-operate or even just compromise with host nations, more and more of these stories will appear. 



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Facebook Face International Turmoil as France and India Rally Against Them Reviewed by Callum Davies on Tuesday, February 09, 2016 Rating: 5

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