Facebook transparency study: Gov't requests up 24%

The United States made up more than half of the total data requests, with over 15,000

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
November 4, 2014
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Sometimes I yearn for the day when we only suspected that our government was spying on us and trying to get our information. Now we know that they are and, frankly, I sometimes feel like we were better off before. 

The reason I feel that is because even though we know what we know, things are only getting worse. Case in point: Facebook released its third ever transparency report on Tuesday, and it says exactly what you think it does: government requests for data are only continuing to rise. 

So, basically, the government has been exposed... and just basically shrugged it off. 

In the first six months of 2014, governments around the world made a total of 34,946 requests for Facebook data. That amounts to an increase of 24% from the previous six months. Meanwhile, the government has increased restrictions on content by 19%. 

In a post, Chris Sonderby, Deputy General Counsel for Facebook, outlined some of the ways that the company had attempted to push back on these requests.

That includes challenging bulk search warrants issued by a court in New York, which "demanded we turn over nearly all data from the accounts of nearly 400 people." The request was "by far the largest we’ve ever received," Sonderby said. 

What the company is really trying to do is get people to trust the Internet again (good luck with that!)

"More broadly, we continue to work with our industry and civil society partners to push governments for additional transparency and to reform surveillance practices necessary to rebuild people’s trust in the Internet," he wrote.

"While we recognize that governments need to take action to protect their citizens’ safety and security, we believe all government data requests must be narrowly tailored, proportionate to the case in review, and subject to strict judicial oversight."

So let's break the data down. Take a wild guess which country had the most requests for data, and the largest percentage where data was handed over! I'll give you three guesses.

The U.S. government made over 15,000 requests for user data over a six month period, more than half of the total requests that Facebook received! Of that number, 80.15% of the requests had at least some data produced.

The company with the next highest number was India, which asked for 4,559 pieces of data. Interestingly, India led all countries in terms of content restrictions, with nearly 5,000. Turkey and Pakistan were the only other two countries with more than 35, asking for 1,893 and 1,773 respectively.

Germany requested 2,537 pieces of data; France wanted 2,249; the United Kingdom asked for 2,110; Italy requested 1,869; and Brazil asked for 1,307. These were the only countries with more than 1,000 requests. 

As much as I appreciate these reports, and they do serve an important function, I cannot wait for the until one of them actually shows a decrease in the amount of data requests. Then we will know they are actually working. 

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