Facebook Discover offers free basic web browsing with plenty of catches

Connecting to the Internet these days has become even more critical but it has also revealed just how wide the digital divide really is in many parts of the world. While many people do have phones, smartphones, or otherwise, not all of them have the capacity to stay online for prolonged periods. That is usually because of the prohibitive costs for using cellular data in some countries and Facebook's new Discover app and service wants to address that with a serving for free but limited data just for browsing the Web.

As part of its Facebook Connectivity's Free Basics campaign, Discover aims to get more people online for as long as they can without incurring additional costs. That seemingly magical and generous proposition is made possible through Facebook's partnerships with mobile operators in the countries Discover will be available in. But, as they say, there's no such thing as free lunch and Discover's free Web browsing doesn't exactly come with no strings attached.

It is, of course, only fair that the Web browsing experience will be limited to prevent abuse. Specifically, the websites that people visit using the Android app or Discover's mobile web version won't see videos or hear audio, or receive any other data-intensive traffic. If they want those, they can always purchase data from their mobile operator.

Facebook Discover is able to put this kind of limit by using a proxy where all traffic between the phone and the website is routed. This proxy strips away those high-bandwidth parts of the page but it has to also decrypt the page temporarily to do so. Some security and privacy-minded people might be a bit uneasy about that but, as expected, Facebook does make promises.

The social network giant promises that browsing history is not stored in connection with users nor is browsing activity used for advertisement purposes. It doesn't say outright that it doesn't collect any data whatsoever but explains that Free Basics and Discover have their own privacy policies. For some people, like those Facebook is targeting Peru, Thailand, the Philippines, and Iraq, that might be a fair price to pay just to get online, further showing how something that many consider an essential part of life is still a luxury for others.