Exactly a month after he hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Facebook headquarters in California in September, Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive officer of the social media networking site, is visiting India on October 28. He announced this in a Facebook post on Friday.
“I’ll be answering questions from across Facebook as well as from a live audience at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi,” he said in the post. A Facebook spokesperson said Zuckerberg would “meet developers, partners and others who are building new digital services and working on ways to connect more people to them”.
While a meeting with Modi is believed to be on his agenda, sources in the information and broadcasting ministry said Zuckerberg was also likely to interact with Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad.
While Facebook did not comment on the purpose of Zuckerberg’s visit, the social media giant’s Free Basics initiative, formerly known as internet.org, could become a talking point. Free Basics is an open platform by Facebook in 19 developing countries that tries to enable easy access of select apps and app-based services to people at zero cost.
In India, Facebook partners Reliance Communications to offer free access to about 30 websites. However, the selective approach of internet.org has invited criticism from various quarters. Facebook had on September 26, a day before Modi’s visit to Menlo Park, rebranded internet.org as Free Basics to counter concerns of net neutrality activists in India. The major concern was over naming the platform internet.org despite it representing only a sliver of the Internet.
Earlier, Facebook had opened the platform to any developer, following travel portal Cleartrip’s exit from the programme.
This will be Zuckerberg’s first visit to India after rebranding internet.org and the second after Modi became prime minister.
One of the issues discussed during Modi’s visit was Internet access for all. Zuckerberg, who vouches for universal Internet access as a basic human right, had also tried to woo the Indian prime minister by voicing support for the Digital India campaign days ahead of Modi’s visit.
With about 130 million users in the country, India is a key market for Facebook. India has the social media platform’s largest app developer community outside the US. In addition, of the 5,000 developers on Facebook’s app development platform — FbStart, about 1,000 are from the Asia-Pacific region, of which 40 per cent are from India.
More than 75 per cent of the top-grossing apps in India are integrated with Facebook. Currently, India has about 3 million software professionals. According to Google, the country is expected to have the largest number of developers by 2018.
“India is personally very important to the history of our company,” Zuckerberg had said at Facebook’s headquarters in California last month. The story goes that Apple founder Steve Jobs himself had recommended Zuckerberg to visit a temple in India “in order to reconnect with what I believed was the mission of the company” when the latter was considering whether to sell the social-media company.