Mark Zuckerberg's boast about Facebook's data storage was torn apart by human rights groups

GettyFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
  • In his blockbuster blog, Mark Zuckerberg boasted that Facebook has chosen not to store data in countries that “have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”
  • But just months ago, Facebook announced plans to open a data center in Singapore, a country with a poor record when it comes to freedom of expression, according to human rights groups.
  • Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch tore into Zuckerberg, claiming his “rhetoric on secure data storage is taking a back seat to the convenience of operating in Singapore.”

Mark Zuckerberg laid out his vision for Facebook’s pivot to privacy on Wednesday in a lengthy blog, but it hasn’t taken long for the shine of some of his pronouncements to be dimmed.

Detailing plans to keep user information safe, the Facebook CEO boasted that the company has chosen not to store data in countries that “have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”

“If we build data centres and store sensitive data in these countries, rather than just caching non-sensitive data, it could make it easier for those governments to take people’s information,” he said.

Zuckerberg said that while this decision could lock Facebook out of certain markets, “that’s a tradeoff we’re willing to make.” This was seen by some as a shot across Apple’s bows. The iPhone maker last year established a data center in China so it could continue to offer its iCloud services in the country.

Read more: It looks like Facebook is giving up on its years-long effort to bring its social network to China

But within hours of Zuckerberg publishing his 3,200-word missive, it was pulled apart by human rights groups.

In September last year, Facebook announced that it was spending $US1 billion building a new data center in Singapore. Zuckerberg posted about the news on his Facebook page, saying it would be the company’s 15th data center and its first in Asia.

Singapore has attracted many tech companies, including Google and Microsoft. It does not, however, have a good track record on human rights. Human Rights Watch describes Singapore’s political climate as “stifling,” adding that citizens face “severe restrictions on their basic rights to freedom of expression.”

“Singapore is a seriously rights-abusing government that spends an inordinate amount of time trying to intimidate and harass those who express views the government doesn’t like,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told Business Insider.

“Singapore is not a place where freedom of expression is protected and it’s really shocking that somehow Facebook thinks it’s ok to put a data center under the thumb of such a repressive government.”

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a researcher at Amnesty International who covers Singapore, agreed and said Zuckerberg’s claims in his blog were “hypocritical.” She said Facebook’s data center plan is “very concerning,” adding: “Singapore definitely has a very poor track record on freedom of expression, including freedom of expression online.”

She said that over the last few months human rights activists in Singapore have been subject to politically motivated prosecutions for “peacefully expressing their opinion online, including on Facebook.”

Chhoa-Howard pointed to an ongoing case in which the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong is suing blogger Leong Sze Hian for defamation over an article he shared on Facebook, alleging that the leader was caught up in a Malaysian money laundering scandal.

Lee Hsien Loong donald trumpChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesSingapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong standing next to President Donald Trump.

In another example, Human Rights Watch highlighted a case where Singapore’s government charged activist Jolovan Wham with “scandalizing the judiciary” after he posted on Facebook criticising the country’s judges. Wham was convicted in October, and awaits sentencing later this month. He faces up to three years in prison.

Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have also raised objections to a series of hearings Singapore held on “online falsehoods” last year. In a statement last year, Amnesty said it was “alarmed by the criticism of and misrepresentation of civil society activists and organisations that have participated in the hearings, including the forced removal of human rights defender and political activist, Han Hui Hui.”

Elaborating on Zuckerberg’s blog, Human Rights Watch executive Robertson said:

“Reading Zuckerberg’s words about on secure data storage, one would think Singapore would be the last country in Asia where Facebook should build a storage center. All he and his staff had to do is talk to the besieged human rights movement in the country to learn how repressive the environment is for freedom of expression.

“As for security of information, suffice to say that Singapore has such intrusive, persistent surveillance that it’s one of the countries where we must take special precautions when we go there. No one who cares about human rights; democratic, grass-roots organising against corporations, migrant worker empowerment, LGBT rights, or a host of other rights issues should feel comfortable that Facebook is building a data center in Singapore.

“It looks like Zuckerberg’s rhetoric on secure data storage is taking a back seat to the convenience of operating in Singapore, and sadly, this short-sighted decision will probably come back to haunt them as well as their customers whose privacy Facebook professes to care about.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

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