The way Facebook handles government requests for data is coming under fire from privacy advocacy groups.
In a new blog post titled “Why Facebook Failed Our Censorship Test,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation takes aim at the social network’s track record when it comes to content restriction. More specifically, the EFF claims that Facebook has never fully explained why it has restricted access to some of its pages.
The EFF explains that Facebook gives explanations for some content restriction in its ‘Government Request Report,’ but “if you click over the United States, Facebook’s home country, you’ll find that the ‘content restriction’ category is conspicuously missing.”
And, according to the EFF, this doesn’t mean that Facebook didn’t restrict content in the US. On the contrary, the blog post points out known instances where Facebook censored content within the US:
We know for a fact that Facebook processed 74 requests for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation alone in 2014. Between California and the state of South Carolina, we also know Facebook processed more than 700 takedown requests over the last four years. We could file public records requests in all 50 states to learn more, but since Facebook’s system allowed prisons to file these requests without creating a paper trail, only Facebook knows how many requests it has complied with nationwide. We believe it may reach into thousands.
The ultimate point is that though Facebook does have a report attempting to divulge what government requests have been made with its users data, the company isn’t disclosing everything.
Competitors like Google and Twitter, the EFF notes, are much better at disclosing when they receive any government requests.
This is all part of the EFF’s annual reports called “Who Has Your Back?, which grades the largest tech companies on how they handle government requests for user data. Criteria include the companies’ data disclosing practices, whether they inform users about government data demands, and other facets that illuminate what they do when faced with a government request.
Facebook isn’t the only company the EFF is calling out. WhatsApp, for instance, is also being lambasted for its lacklustre transparency efforts (of course, Facebook does own WhatsApp). Service providers like AT&T and Verizon also had low marks.
Facebook, for its part, scores relatively well on other criteria. But the EFF still has higher hopes for the social behemoth.
The blog post concluded, “We urge Facebook to publish the data and show U.S. government agencies that censorship shouldn’t happen in the dark.”
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