Report: Egypt nixed Free Basics over Facebook's refusal to spy

In December, news surfaced that Egypt had shut down Facebook's Free Basics Internet service, news that itself followed the social network's troubles in India. The move was a sudden one, and officials made no public announcements about their reason for pulling the plug. According to new sources who have surfaced, Free Basics was canned because Egyptian government officials wanted access to spy on users, something Facebook reportedly rejected.

The information comes from a pair of sources who spoke with Reuters. According to those sources — who are said to both have direct knowledge of the discussions — the Egyptian government had wanted access to the network in order to spy on users. Facebook refused to grant the government this ability, and as a result, the Egyptian government soon shut down the network.

Some time after Free Basics' shutdown, government officials had issued an update on the matter, saying at the time that Etisalat, the mobile carrier, had been given two months to run the service under a temporary permit. It isn't clear whether the permit ran out at that time and wasn't renewed, or if the service had been yanked, as well as the permit.

The sources say Facebook and the Egyptian government held discussions about the matter, but didn't detail what kind of access the government was requesting and what kind of changes Facebook would have had to make. Most recently, the nation's Ministry of Communication spokesperson Mohamed Hanafi said to Reuters:

The service was offered free of charge to the consumer, and the national telecommunications regulator saw the service as harmful to companies and their competitors.

Free Basics is a limited Internet service that is free for consumers to access, and it is intended to get people online who couldn't afford to get online otherwise. The service presents a limited array of websites, one of which is Facebook's own. This has been criticized for net neutrality reasons, as well as concerns that such a service would, in the long run, hamper the growth of better — and unrestricted — Internet service in the nations.

SOURCE: Reuters