Facebook, Google tricking Africans with “free” services?

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Where will the African Mark Zuckerberg come from when the continent has no chance to compete? PHOTO: Getty Images

Google and Facebook are at the forefront of a scramble to win over new African Internet users, offering free services they say give a leg-up to the poor but which critics argue is a plan to lock in customers on a continent of 1 billion people.

Africa’s Internet penetration will reach 50 per cent by 2025 and there are expected to be 360 million smartphones on the continent by then, roughly double the number in the United States currently, Mckinsey Consultants data shows.

Africa had 16 percent Internet penetration and 67 million smartphones in 2013.

This growth is attracting interest from Internet companies such as Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, which are striking deals with service providers such as Vodacom, MTN, Bharti Airtel and Safaricom to offer users free, or ‘zero-rated’ access to their sites and services.

Facebook, through its Internet.org programme, offers a stripped-down version of its social network and some other sites for free in what it says is an exercise to “connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access”.

Google, in partnership with Kenyan mobile phone firm Safaricom, is rolling out its “free zone” in Kenya, where email and the Internet are available with no data charges, providing users stay within Google apps.

Google has said its “free zone” is aimed at a billion people without the Internet in the developing world.

France’s Orange is offering free access to a pared-down version of Wikipedia in some African countries, while South Africa’s Cell-C gives its customers free use of WhatsApp, a messaging service owned by Facebook. Read more

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