Is Facebook’s International Growth in Danger?

International expansion has become such a top priority at Facebook that the company has employed lasers, drones, high-tech air balloons, and a boatload of lobbyists in an incredible effort to push Facebook’s reach all over the globe.

But now, the company is facing a backlash that threatens to undermine what Mark Zuckerberg called “a historic opportunity.”

Free Basics, the recent rebranding of what was previously known as, is Zuckerberg’s pet project; the service promises to “connect the globe” by providing free, basic Internet access through a Facebook-controlled platform. Zuckerberg has taken every Free Basics setback personally, often responding via Facebook posts and videos to defend the initiative. His simmering frustrations toward those questioning the company’s motives have sometimes boiled over.

In December, the tech baron penned an op-ed in The Times of India, railing against the government’s skepticism of the project. In it, his tone reached levels of condescension and incredulity that surprised analysts: “There’s no valid basis for denying people the choice to use Free Basics,” he wrote. “Who could possibly be against this?”

Well, it appears India is against this.

On February 8, India’s regulators blocked Free Basics, citing violations of net neutrality. It was a major setback for Zuckerberg, who had made India his primary focus. With a population of 1.2 billion people and relatively small 20 percent Internet penetration rate, India was an ideal target for Free Basics, as well as a potentially massive market for Facebook’s ad business.

But India isn’t the only country threatening Facebook’s international plan. Today, France’s privacy regulatory body CNIL released a notice stating that Facebook “violates [users] fundamental rights and interests, including their right to respect for private life.” CNIL took aim at Facebook’s targeted ad business in particular, claiming that the network collects personal data without properly “informing” or “obtaining the consent” of users.

Considering that Facebook’s entire business model is dependent on its ability to target users based on personal data, this could be a crushing blow for Facebook’s business in France. It could also create a domino effect in Europe, which has become increasingly suspicious of the tech giant’s data collection practices.

Facebook is already a global network—83.6 percent of active users are outside of America and Canada, according to the company’s internal statistics. But Facebook isn’t everywhere. The social network is already effectively blocked from China, the world’s largest market, and a major slowdown in Europe, India, and other international markets could hamstring the company’s international ambitions considerably.

Zuckerberg has shown restraint responding to these latest setbacks, but make no mistake—this is a big deal for him and an even bigger deal for Facebook’s future.

Image by Associated Press

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