Facebook, in an attempt to promote its Free Basics programme, has introduced a new app called Discover. This app allows users to browse any website using a daily balance of free data that is given by mobile operators. Discover is currently in trial phase and is being tested in Peru, which is among the more than 55 countries where Free Basics is available. The development was shared by Facebook on its blog page where it shared that Discover only supports low-bandwidth traffic when using free data.
“With Discover, we're exploring ways to help people stay on the Internet more consistently. Many Internet users around the world remain underconnected, regularly dropping off the internet for some period of time when they exhaust their data balance. Discover is designed to help bridge these gaps and keep people connected until they can purchase data again,” Yoav Zeevi, Product Manager, said in the blog post.
Facebook will be “assessing how Discover can help people extend use of their regular data balance and support internet adoption.” Discover is a mobile Web and Android app and as of now, there is no information on availability of the app on iOS devices.
The post also states that that amid the coronavirus public health crisis, it is important to explore ways in which people can stay connected and have access to health information, along with other resources on the Unternet. Therefore, the homepage for Discover will have coronavirus health resources to provide accurate health information.
Discover enables people to browse text on any website using free daily data. This free data is given by participating operators and Facebook has partnered with Bitel, Claro, Entel, and Movistar for this. As of now, Free Basics only includes websites that are submitted by developers and they have to meet Facebook's technical criteria as well. Discover, however, aims to allow users to browse text versions of any website. To make this possible, the Web traffic is routed through the Discover proxy and “temporarily decrypted to remove video, audio, and other high-bandwidth content” that may not be supported. Facebook states that encrypts information between its own servers and any device that supports HTTPS wherever possible.
The company also states that Discover does not store people's browsing history in connection with them and the browsing activity is not used to push targeted ads or suggest friends. Interestingly, a Facebook account is not required to use the app.
Facebook adds that it has been beta testing product features in Thailand, the Philippines, and Iraq where it aims to eventually roll out additional Discover trials with partner operators.
To recall, Free Basics in India did face quite a lot of backlash when it came to the country in 2016. At the time, Free Basics was banned in India because it only allowed access to selected websites, violating net neutrality. In 2017, Free Basics was accused of non-promotion of local content and collecting metadata of users. It was said that Free Basics violates net neutrality and does not really show the true potential of the open Internet.
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