Facebook’s “Free Basics Internet” service, which is available in emerging markets and allows customers to access things like Facebook, Messenger, AccuWeather and other parts of the internet, was recently blocked in Egypt. Turns out the social network wouldn’t let the Egyptian government spy on users so, ultimately, Egypt shut it down instead.
The news was revealed by Reuters on Friday which said Egypt shut the service down on December 30, about two months after it launched. There appears to have been concerns on both sides of the fence: some Egyptian authorities were concerned Facebook’s free service could hurt competition that otherwise charges customers for Internet access. Facebook, on the other hand, didn’t dig the spying. Egypt blamed it on the former’s argument.
Sources speaking to Reuters said Facebook was really shut down because “the company would not allow the government to circumvent the service’s security to conduct surveillance.” In other words, Egypt wanted to see what Facebook Free Basics Internet users were doing. It’s unclear what sort of data they wanted and who they were tracking (everyone or just a few folks?).
Facebook isn’t entirely innocent, though. Free Basics has been, arguably, in violation of net neutrality rules, choosing the content and news available to users who want the free service instead of providing a wide-open Internet.
The full version of Facebook remains alive and well in Egypt, but it’s unfortunate that the free service is now no longer an option for folks who might not be able to afford Internet services.