This is the beginning. We will do more in India, says Facebook India head Ajit Mohan

Thomas K Thomas Mumbai | Updated on April 22, 2020 Published on April 22, 2020

Ajit Mohan, Vice-President and Managing Director, Facebook India

‘There is no data-sharing agreement with Reliance Jio’

Facebook has been trying to land a bigger role in India’s digital growth since 2014 when Mark Zuckerberg announced the controversial Free Basics programme. The project, which promised to offer free access to certain websites, was shut down after the telecom regulator disallowed it.

While projects like Free Basics were a non-starter, the ₹43,574-crore deal with Reliance Jio is a culmination of what Zuckerberg has been wanting to do: get a piece of the growing data usage in India, with Facebook at the forefront. BusinessLine spoke to Ajit Mohan, head of Facebook’s India operations, to understand what the deal means to Facebook in India.

Facebook has been trying to make a bigger impact on India’s digital story with projects such as Free Basic and Express Wi-Fi. Is the deal with Reliance Jio a culmination of all these efforts?

There are multiple layers to it. The starting point is public, that is the real story. We are still excited about Facebook’s mission to connect the unconnected. The Covid-19 crisis has brought this into the focus — of connecting families and friends, helping build communities, and that doesn’t change.

But this is not an extension of Free Basics and we are not looking this as an investment in a telecom operator. It’s an investment in a platform, a technology internet services company that has put in place a strong foundation in building India’s digital transformation. As we spent time together, we could see very clear areas where we could work together.

The Facebook family of apps, on its own, is relevant today and deeply embedded in India. WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook have distinctive roles and are doing well.

Jio has played a disproportionate role in digital India, and with all the apps that we have, we found an opportunity to collaborate.

The first one we have identified is for WhatsApp to work with Jio’s new commerce to create a platform for 60 million small businesses to engage with their customers.

Does Facebook’s investments in RJio really change the relationship between a telecom network and a platform? Are lines blurring?

Structurally, Jio can answer that better.

One of the concerns that many are raising is about privacy and data protection. There is fear that two internet giants are coming together — so, will the user data be compromised?

Our investment is a minority investment. We continue to operate independently. I don’t think there is any kind of data-sharing agreement.

If you look at Facebook and all the work it has done in bringing privacy into focus, bringing user data protection at the heart of the company, we are very conscious about this. None of those changes.

A minority stake in Jio does not change our global approach to privacy and data protection.

How long did it take for this deal to be completed?

We have not shared the process of how long it took and other details at the moment.

Will there be any revenue share between Facebook and RJio on services that you will be rolling out jointly?

We are not talking about commercial constructs at the moment.

What does this mean for Facebook India? Will you get more revenue and subscribers post this deal?

An investment of this scale shows an extraordinary commitment to India. The company is singularly focussed on how we can help deal with Covid-19. Even amid the pandemic, we have done this collaboration, which shows how excited Facebook is about India.

Just to be clear this is not an exclusive arrangement with Jio. We already work with multiple partners and will continue to do so. The energy around India across our apps continues unabated.

This deal brings us more opportunities. Focus is long term. It’s not being measured by short-term revenues or immediate transactional impact. This is the beginning. We would do more in India.

Do you get a seat on Jio’s board?

Yes, Facebook gets a board seat.

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Published on April 22, 2020
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