Facebook reports that user data requests are on the rise
Requests by governments for Facebook user data increased by 25 percent during the first half of this year, and requests to censor content rose by 20 percent, according to Forbes.
User data requests on the rise
Facebook's report on data requests revealed that approximately 35,000 requests were made in total in the first half of this year, with almost half of them coming from the U.S. government. The second highest number of requests were made by the Indian government, with 4,559 requests. Germany and the U.K. followed with 2,537 and 2,110 data requests, respectively. Facebook maintained that it does not accept every single request for user data or to restrict content. Accordingly, the U.S. was granted the information it wanted eight times out of ten, the news source noted. Chris Sonderby, deputy general counsel at Facebook wrote in a blog post what Facebook hopes to see in the future.
"As we've said before, we scrutinize every government request we receive for legal sufficiency under our terms and the strict letter of the law, and push back hard when we find deficiencies or are served with overly broad requests," Sonderby said, according to Mashable.
Facebook was not the only company to experience a sharp increase in user data requests. In September, Google revealed that requests for user data had risen by approximately 15 percent in the previous six months, and a whopping 150 percent over the last five years, reported the news source.
Government censorship is also increasing. Facebook revealed that takedown requests increased by 19 percent. The majority of these came from Turkey, Pakistan and India. For the most part, the requests were related to posts which criticized governments and royal families, according to Forbes.
Why social media wants to protect user information
Facebook began releasing this information last year after it became publicly known that the company was sharing user data with the National Security Agency under the secret internet surveillance program, Prism. The numbers indicate that requests for user data are increasing at an accelerated pace.
Facebook is not permitted to release detailed information on government requests. Twitter is currently challenging the law which prohibits social networking sites from disclosing this information. As it is now, Twitter can only report that it received between 0 and 999 requests and that it complied with 0 to 999 of them, Forbes explained.
Facebook tries to position itself publicly as a defender of user privacy. The social media site requires user information in order to fuel its targeted advertising campaigns and drive profitability. As a result, the company does not wish to alienate and upset users by sharing data with governments.
Anonymous access and illegal search warrants
Last week Facebook made the announcement that it would accommodate Tor users who visit the site anonymously through use of encrypted networks. Tor is a tool that journalists and activists use to publish posts to the Internet without disclosing their actual locations. Previously, Facebook mistook Tor users for hacked accounts. The company has remedied this situation so that Tor users can continue to use the site without losing their encryption protection.
Facebook is currently appealing a decision made by a New York court in which it was required to submit user data for 400 people involved in a disability fraud case. The company argues that the search warrants violated user privacy rights and constitutional safeguards, the news source reported.
"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 … We're hopeful that Congress will update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to codify our requirement of a warrant to compel disclosure of the stored contents of an account," wrote Sonderby, according to the news source.
It seems that more than ever, governments are interested in accessing the user data of Facebook users. Certain unpopular regimes also want to the ability to remove content from websites at will. It remains to be seen how this situation will unfold with regards to the amount of user information social networking sites are required to hand over to governments.