Friday, 17 April 2015

Cleartrip takes Flipkart cue, cancels Internet.org booking

A day after Flipkart dropped its plans to join Airtel Zero amid a public backlash, online travel portal Cleartrip on Wednesday said the company has pulled out of Internet.org — a joint venture between Facebook andReliance Communications — in support of net neutrality.
Internet.org is an initiative launched in August 2013 by Facebook, along with seven mobile phone and servicescompanies  Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Microsoft, Opera Software, Reliance Communications and Qualcomm —
with the goal of providing affordable net access. In India, Internet.org waslaunched in a partnership between RCom and Facebook. To get access to thissystem, a user should be a customer of RCom and is entitled to free access to around 40 websites. However, any internet user who browses outside the designated free websites of Internet.org will have to pay charges according to thedata plans of RCom.
“The recent debate around net neutrality gave us pause to rethink our approach to Internet.org and the idea of large corporations getting involved with picking and choosing who gets access to what and how fast. What started of with providing a simple search service has us now concerned with influencing customer decision-making by forcing options on them, something that is against our core DNA,” Subramanya Sharma, CMO, Cleartrip, wrote in the company’s official blog on Wednesday.
Further explaining the reason for Cleartrip’s initial participation in Internet.org, Sharma said the participation did not entail any revenue arrangement between the company and Internet.org or any of its participants. Since there was absolutely zero money changing hands, we genuinely believed we were contributing to a social cause, he said.
“So, while our original intent was noble, it is impossible to pretend there is no conflict of interest (both real and perceived) in our decision to be a participant in Internet.org. In light of this, Cleartrip has withdrawn our association with and participation in Internet.org entirely,” the blog stated.
The debate over net neutrality has been raging after Airtel announced Airtel Zero, a service to deliver free access to select applications against a fee, to be paid by the respective app developers or companies, through marketing tie-ups. Flipkart was among the first companies to consider availing the services. Net neutrality propagates that internet service providers and the governments should treat alldata on the internet equally, without charging differentially by content, site,application, etc. They further insist that Airtel Zero’s modus operandi stands in blatant violation of net neutrality.
Reliance had got into tie-ups which allegedly violated net neutrality earlier as well. Reliance had announced in 2012 that it would offer free Facebook and WhatsApp for R16 a month, without any additional data costs. The very next year, in 2013, they had announced a similar Twitter pack.
Flipkart’s Bansal had earlier tweeted that zeo rating of apps do not violate netneutrality, stoking consumer backlash. It had led to users doling out one-star rating to its app on Google Play. Zero rating is a practice among mobile networkoperators, where customers are not charged for a certain volume of data by specific applications or internet services.
“Public pressure will play a very big role in shaping the law and debate around it. There is a lot of awareness generated. There is enough public pressure on thegovernment and businesses to makes sure that net neutrality is maintained. AirtelZero is just another backdoor way of defeating net neutrality. Today, they will giveit for free, but that might not be forever. It’s a way for users to get accustomed to the app and the payment part will come later. Users are already paying for the money and are comfortable with this,” Antony Alex, CEO, MyLaw.net, told FE.

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