Free-Riders Of Digital India

Work From Home (WFH) trend and Online Classes are already getting proven to take over the future. People are chasing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to get new internet connections. Today almost every house owns a router with 5 Ghz/2.4 GHz dual band support allowing a larger number of devices to be connected. With India’s cost of internet per GB being the lowest compared to other countries, plans are very much flexible that, unlimited access (pre-FUP) at speed >40 Mbps is much obvious. We all visit our relatives, friends house and auto connect to their Wi-fi, perform downloads and stream videos. Who pays for the internet service you use at their home? Your friend pays and you share their bandwidth at zero cost, and you get named as a Free Rider. Free Rider commonly describes someone who spends nothing or less but enjoys the goods and services. While this concerns more on public goods, club goods and services (like OTT, Web based Applications, etc) are recent easy targets.

While Telecom providers advertise a single plan for the entire family, people hijack that idea to OTTs by expanding at free of cost. Logins and passwords get shared to everyone in the family, thereby consuming the prime privilege. Brother pays, sisters and cousins watch movies uninterrupted by Ads. Ride hailing startups offer free first service to attract users, but people use them only once but with different logins. Food delivery platforms publicized promo codes and offers for first time users, a strategy to expand consumer base, gets exploited adversely. People order foods, soon it gets delivered they complain of an item missed or replaced and platform volunteered for the refund. This hints people to order from different logins and get refunds or coupons in return. Free return policy by ecommerce handlers gets smacked as fun to order new outfit, perform instant photoshoots and return the next day. Photoshoots remind of the tactics people do after each ceremony. Photographers tend to share the soft copies in flash-drive a day after the ceremony. Everyone in the family sharing same house, ask you to share them so they can pick their personal choices. Cloud storage you possess has less free space and you immediately sign up for a new Gmail account, voila ! You got 15GB to use now. If each couple creates a new account after their ceremonies, imagine the total storage we are reserving for free.

Might these seem to be a few over million users, people have started to manipulate the applications to utilize premium service. Android apks are being modified (mod apks) and re-released freely which has premium contents readily available. Though security researchers warn of using such mod apks as providers could steal data, awareness remains secluded. Some get it from others, some with knowledge of App development make changes on their own. Technical skill gets used to free ride the Technology.

When these went unheeded privately to family or friends, there came an instance when Wikipedia humbly asked Indians to donate and read. Out of millions of visitors from India, only 2% donated and 98% remained free riders. NPOs thrive through donations and funds. It becomes necessary to have enough reserves as backup in case a source halts its funding. “It is meant to be free, so why should I donate, and Wikipedia is hosted by an international foundation with enough funds right?” were the common questions among Indian minds, flooding the internet with trolls and debates.

There are many other ways free-riders exist in our country. So how can these be prevented? If we look at the root cause of some of the mentioned cases, they narrow down to MULTIPLE LOGINs. How is it possible? Because SIM cards are freely, cheaply available. Free availability of one resource makes it easy to exploit other resources. How many SIM cards can an individual own in India? DOT had limited to 9 connections per person in the guidelines dated 09.08.2012, but got extended to 18 connections (Additional 9 for M2M services*) in May 2018 amendment. Ignoring the M2M limit, 9 connections are something we can look back again. Limiting the number further or methods to limit the logins based on the users than mobile numbers can be investigated. Awareness about apks not downloaded from the official play store or similar app stores can be organized. Free riders of public goods have different ways to be handled, but club goods need to come with their own way. These could seem to be just a few of the cases. With the advent of IOT and eSIM, there could be more opportunities for free riders.

Many argue it as a matter of self-interest to pay or not-pay, listen or not-listen. But it is also left to the empathy a person holds when using any free goods or services.

(* Refer M2M guidelines for further details, https://dot.gov.in)

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