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Egypt reportedly banned Facebook's Free Basics program because it couldn't spy on users

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The shutting down of Facebook’s free internet service in Egypt wasn't about net neutrality as was initially believed, according to a new report from Reuters. The social media platform refused to give the Egyptian government permission to spy on users through its Free Basics program and was subsequently banned from operating in the country. At the time of its shut down in December, the government said it had only granted mobile carrier Etisalat Egypt a temporary permit to offer the free internet service and didn't indicate a disagreement over its ability to carry out surveillance operations.

Reuters’ anonymous sources didn’t elaborate on the government’s demands or how it wanted Facebook to alter its security practices. More than 3 million people in Egypt had signed up for Free Basics access, and of those, Facebook said 1 million were logging onto the internet for the first time.

Facebook wouldn't alter its security to allow for surveillance

Free Basics has faced a backlash in other countries, as well. The initiative was barred from continuing in India after the country’s national telecoms regulator ruled that the program violated principles of net neutrality. Free Basics gives users access to certain websites without paying for data, and the sites are chosen by Facebook with input from carriers offering the service.

The social media company categorizes its service as a humanitarian effort because people can access important weather reports and health information, but opponents point out that the service also harvests data on users. Even still, 37 countries continue to allow Free Basics to operate.