Is free access to Facebook in the Philippines really free?

Filipinos love Facebook more than any other social media company. This is predominantly due to the deals Facebook made with Smart and Globe (yes, no matter what Smart and Globe say that they are bridging the digital divide, they are not doing it from the bottom of their hearts, but for fattening up their wallets and at the same time, putting Filipinos' personal data at risk - yes, they have no shame!) to make Facebook access free on mobile data.

FREE is such a huge come on for everyone. Who does not want free lunch? Unfortunately, free lunch without strings attached are rare, and this free access to Facebook is not one of them. Facebook does not want to tell users that they do collect their online data EVEN OUTSIDE Facebook (or other Meta products for that matter)! The value of getting Filipinos addicted (yes, that is how Facebook (and Instagram) is designed) ensures more engagement (views, likes, shares and re-shares), which translates to more data being collected. Facebook is also expert in manipulating its users by promoting disinformation, misinformation, fake news and hate posts, because they know that it is easier to trigger users with such negativity (resulting in more engagement) than promoting the truth.

FREE is still the Facebook’s biggest siren call for Filipinos. Unfortunately, this is NOT always the case monetarily (already said Facebook is a data vampire). In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “Facebook Promised Poor Countries Free Internet. People Got Charged Anyway.”, users are being charged for access, and this includes Filipinos! To add to this, Philippine telcos are not reliable in measuring the data used by its mobile users – Filipinos simply have to take their word for it and pay whatever telcos tell them. Prepaid subscribers and postpaid subscribers who do not have unlimited data plan are often surprised at how much credits and/or data allowance they have left, but they cannot contest it (this is a prime candidate for an independent study to actually measure how much data is being consumed vs what is being reported).

Apart from this whitelisting practice as anti-net neutrality, Facebook being untruthful (what else is new?) about free access and data collection, and telcos benefitting from this because they are getting paid (by users and Facebook!), what do Filipinos get - connecting with people who triggers them? Messing up their mental health? Let’s face it, connecting with people via Facebook is great – but AT WHAT COST, right? It is time to sit back and think about it.