Facebook has released its first ever Transparency Report, listing all the national governments that have requested access to information on its members. The report includes how many requests were made, how many users the requests affected, and how many resulted in data being handed over.
In the wake of the ever-expanding PRISM kerfuffle, many of the web giants we trust with huge amounts of information about ourselves have gone out of their way to deny or minimise any bulk sharing of that data with government snoops, in the USA or elsewhere.
Statements have emerged from Microsoft, Apple, Google and Yahoo, vigorously denying granting the USA’s National Security Agency unfettered snooping rights to their servers. Back in June babyfaced Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg added his own promises, reassuring his followers that information was only passed on in response to carefully vetted legal demands.
Now Facebook has followed up by producing a detailed breakdown of those demands, similar to the data Microsoft and Google have been publishing for some time. Google recently added details of malware and phishing issues observed in their trawling of the web.
The stats, covering the first half of 2013, show a significant chunk of the data is demanded by US authorities – somewhere between 11,000 and 12,000 requests received, referencing over 20,000 US-based members, of which some 79% resulted in data being handed over.
The closest rival is India, with 3,245 requests for data on 4,144 citizens and a 50% hit rate. The other big hitters are the expected big European countries, with the UK, Germany, Italy and France next in sequence on the list.
Of course in interpreting the figures we need to remember that Facebook users are not evenly distributed around the world – the US has by far the biggest number of Facebook users, with over 160 million at the end of 2012, more than half the total population of the country.
India is in second place, although its 62 million users are barely noticeable among the country’s vast population. Brazil, not far behind India in user base with 58 million members, had only 715 data requests of which 33% resulted in data being handed over.
Those wondering where China is in these figures may need reminding that Facebook is pretty much banned there, although there are occasional reports of opening up.
The US is the only country not to provide precise counts, so it is listed as having 11,000-12,000 requests about 20,000-21,000 users, apparently for legal reasons.
As Facebook explains:
We have reported the numbers for all criminal and national security requests to the maximum extent permitted by law. We continue to push the United States government to allow more transparency regarding these requests, including specific numbers and types of national security-related requests. We will publish updated information for the United States as soon as we obtain legal authorisation to do so.
Advice to Facebook users on maintaining their privacy may thus need a small addendum: don’t share anything sensitive with strangers, and if you don’t want “the man” to know about it, don’t share it at all, especially if you’re in the US.