Facebook this week unveiled an update to its Free Basics internet connection initiative, through which the company is working to connect the other 50% of the world’s population who, right now, cannot access the web.
The new project is called Discover, a process that allows users to access an expanded range of Internet services through the platform, as opposed to the previously limited subset of web tools and sites available through the first iteration of the offering. Free Basics.
Facebook launched the initial Free Basics platform, an expansion of its internet.org initiative. The idea of Free Basics is that it allows people in regions with limited connectivity to access the Internet, with a collection of partner websites selected by Facebook contributing to the limited data service.
This allows Facebook to an increased web connection, which is aligned with its broader mission of ‘connecting the world’, at the time it is also likely to add more users to the Facebook audience over time.
However, one of the key issues identified with Free Basics is that Facebook maintains full control over the platform, and therefore can choose which websites users can access through it. That means that for people without access, they would be indebted to Facebook to provide them access to what it deems appropriate, which could see a greater emphasis on Facebook’s own products. Several regional regulators saw this as a potential conflict, particularly in India, and Free Basics was subsequently banned in some areas.
Discover aims to address this.
As Facebook explains:
Discover is an Android and mobile web application that can be used to navigate any website using a daily free data balance from participating mobile operators.
In essence, Discover is still Free Basics, but it allows for wider web use, so Facebook is no longer in a position to determine which websites people can access through the tool.
Connecting more people is key to Facebook’s growth plans, while, as noted, it is also aligned with its broader ‘social good’ initiative of connecting the world. The PR push is that Facebook wants to play a role in democratizing information and making the web easier to access, but at the same time, more people connected to the web will inevitably equate to more users for Facebook.
For example, Facebook now has about 3 billion monthly active users of its apps, out of a world population of 7.8 billion. Keep in mind that only half the world is reportedly able to access the web and you can see why Facebook would be very interested in connecting more people.
Through Discover, Facebook hopes to allay regulatory concerns and expand to more regions, which could be key to the platform’s continued growth in the future.
Facebook is initially launching Discover in Peru, with a view to expanding the option to regions in Thailand, the Philippines, and Iraq in the near future.
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