Egypt bans Facebook’s Free Basics over spying

Egypt blocked free Internet service after Facebook refused to allow government to snoop on users

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Egypt bans Facebook’s Free Basics over spying Facebook's Free Basics is available in 37 countries, and like in Egypt, it is aimed at low income customers, enabling anyone with a cheap computer or smartphone to access Facebook and the Internet (Getty Images)
By  Aasha Bodhani Published  April 4, 2016

In December, last year, Egypt blocked Facebook's Free Basics Internet service after the social media giant refused to facilitate government surveillance, according to a report by Reuters.

Facebook's Free Basics launched in Egypt in October 2015, but too unnamed sources with direct knowledge of the matter have both confirmed the disagreement, forcing its shutdown two months later.

The Egyptian government ended the service on 30 December, revealing its decision was because UAE telecom Etisalat had only offered a temporary permit of two months for the Internet service. However, the sources have said the discussions between Facebook and the Egyptian government said the service was blocked because the company would not permit the government to circumvent the service's security to conduct surveillance.

According to Reuters, the sources did not provide details on what access the government had requested or what practices it wanted Facebook to change.

Mohamed Hanafi, a spokesman for Egypt's Ministry of Communication, declined to comment on any surveillance demand, but said: "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." 

Free Basics is available in 37 countries, and like in Egypt, it is aimed at low income customers, enabling anyone with a cheap computer or smartphone to create a Facebook account and access a limited set of Internet services at no charge.  

Facebook revealed more than 3m Egyptians used the service before it was suspended, and 1m of them had never had Internet access. The main Facebook site and app are still available in Egypt, which has a population of about 90m.

Facebook's Internet service has hit the headline more than once, most notably in India, where activists said it violated net neutrality by putting websites and businesses that cannot be accessed at a disadvantage. The services has not been banned in India.

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