Free Basics, Facebook’s controversial service that provides users with free access to select websites on mobile, is in trouble in a yet another country.
On Wednesday, the service was shut down in Egypt by authorities, Facebook
told the Associated Press. Free Basics had become available in Egypt a couple of months prior. Facebook said it hopes to get the service reinstated soon.
“We’re disappointed that Free Basics will no longer be available in Egypt,” Facebook told the AP in a statement. “More than 1 million people who were previously unconnected had been using the Internet because of these efforts.”
Free Basics, formerly known as the Internet.org app, is part of Facebook’s Internet.org organization, which focuses on bringing Internet connectivity to the developing world. The mobile app is free to download and access, and includes Facebook as well as a selection of websites for key information like local health services, job boards, weather forecasting, local government services, and so on. Through partnerships with local mobile carriers, there are no data fees when using the app.
Though it’s not clear why Free Basics was shut down, it’s not surprising considering the country’s relationship with social media services. During the Arab Spring in 2011, a period during which mostly young people in Middle East countries like Egypt mobilized for political change, services like Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in organizing efforts and spreading information.
And tensions seem to running high ahead of the five-year anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring protests on Jan. 25: Authorities raided an independent art gallery and a publishing house in Cairo this week, which are not the first such raids in the area. According to media reports, the publishing house was used as a meeting space for protesters during the Arab Spring and it plans to soon publish a book critical of Egypt’s media.
Egypt is also not the first country to oppose Free Basics. The service is currently embroiled in an ongoing debate in India, where opponents argue it violates principles of net neutrality, the idea that all websites should be equally accessible to users. Because the Free Basics apps provides free Internet access to the websites it includes, opponents argue that they’re given an advantage over those not included in Free Basics. After the initial backlash in India, Facebook changed the name and how it chose which websites to include, creating a submission process for any developer wishing to be considered to be included, though the new process has been criticized for still leaving too much control in Facebook’s hands.