Egypt abruptly blocked Facebook’s free internet service, Free Basics, last December, and now we may know why.
Apparently, the social media giant wouldn’t let the government use it to spy on users.
Facebook has positioned Free Basics as a humanitarian project, giving users access to certain websites without needing to pay for the service or for data. The accessible sites are chosen by Facebook with input from carriers offering the service, and is currently available in more than 35 countries.
More than 3 million users had signed up for Free Basics in Egypt before it was banned, with more than 1 million using it to log onto the internet for the first time, according to Facebook.
At the time, it was unclear as to the reason why the Egyptian government had banned the service, and was assumed that it was due to concerns that Free Basics violates the principles of net neutrality, which is what led the service to also be banned in India as well.
In fact, speaking to Reuters, Egypt’s Ministry of Communication implied the very same thing, citing regulation issues.
“The service was offered free of charge to the consumer, and the national telecommunication regulator saw the service as harmful to companies and their competitors,” said Mohamed Hanafi, a spokesman for the ministry.
However, anonymous sources speaking to the news agency say that it was actually banned because Facebook refused to give the Egyptian government permission to use the service for surveillance purposes.
The sources didn’t reveal the details of what the Egyptian government was asking of Facebook, or how it planned on spying on users in the country, but implied it involved circumventing the service’s security.
Whatever the reason, Facebook Free Basics remains banned in the country. If spying remains on top of the government’s features request, we doubt we’ll see a change in its relationship status with Facebook anytime soon.