Surprise! First ever Facebook "Government Requests" report reveals the most inquisitive authorities...

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Facebook Government Requests logo on flagFacebook 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.

Click to see Facebook's report [HTML]

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.

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11 Responses to Surprise! First ever Facebook "Government Requests" report reveals the most inquisitive authorities...

  1. Joe D. · 776 days ago

    " if you don't want "the man" to know about it, don't share it at all"

    How about "the man" stays out of Americans personal business?
    What happened to this country?

    • CAB · 776 days ago

      The Man has been snooping forever. The difference is, the people are volunteering such personal information on an automated computer system owned by a private billion dollar business, and with all that golden information, what government could resist scooping it up?
      The Man was part of the bell system. Now 'he' is part of the internet based information systems.
      I have a philosophy. A secret is something only ONE person knows.

  2. Nigel · 776 days ago

    It's hard to understand how anyone who uses Facebook can be upset about requests from "the man" when they already voluntarily put their information into the Facebook machine, whose acknowledged purpose is to exploit it beyond their ability to control it.

  3. Laura · 776 days ago

    I have a better Idea, everyone email NSA and the White House and demand them to stop spying on us.

    • AKOH · 776 days ago

      ...or we could all just post it on our Facebook accounts. They can't pretend they didn't see it there.

    • Pam Barrett · 495 days ago

      Sorry Laura, that won't happen because they believe that they can do anything they want to. So don't hold your breath on that idea. Look at all the other things that are occurring in these "land of the free......" I just hope and pray that it's not too late to get our country back. Maybe in 2016 we might have a chance.

  4. bashful · 776 days ago

    What would be nice is if there was a way of knowing if it was my account that was being canvassed and what data was turned over. It is one thing if looking at publicly posted data, but a whole other level if requesting passwords and access to more details.

  5. matt · 776 days ago

    From the FB Global Government Requests Report...

    "Transparency and trust are core values at Facebook."

    Oh... really? And do they sell bridges too?

  6. Glen · 775 days ago

    George Orwell said it best "Big brother is watching"

  7. dzzdee · 775 days ago

    I am not bothered by the Man, because i have nothing listed that I don't want to share.
    What I do mind is facebook continue asking for my personal information. When I don't want to list it.. Like my location or school level.. None of your business facebook quit hounding me.

  8. taralynnb · 769 days ago

    How about people impersonated online by malicious cybercriminal stalkers who share our real data, mixed with defamatory false info, that then gets the govt's attention? It can happen to anyone, so whether or not you have nothing to hide, someone else can present as you, in topic matter that reflects on you

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About the author

John Hawes is Chief of Operations at Virus Bulletin, running independent anti-malware testing there since 2006. With over a decade of experience testing security products, John was elected to the board of directors of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO) in 2011.