Today, Facebook has more than 1 billion active users worldwide, spanning 70 languages and 210 countries. But no country cares as much about what those users are doing as the United States does, according to a new report from the social-media network.
Although 75 percent of Facebook users live outside the U.S., the country tops the list of governments that request user data. In just the first half of 2013, the U.S. government, including both local and national security law enforcement, made between 11,000 and 12,000 requests for between 20,000 and 21,000 users’ information. Facebook was required by law to disclose the data in 79 percent of these requests, the report states.
Indonesia, the country with the second-largest number of users, doesn’t appear on this report. India, the third largest, made 3,245 requests covering 4,144 users. For India, Facebook complied half the time. Of course, the U.S. is also the country with the largest number of Facebook users in the world, which can skew the numbers.
Facebook disclosed data for 68 percent of the 1,975 requests for 2,337 users made by the U.K., which put in the second-highest number of requests behind the U.S. In third was Germany with 1,886 and a compliance rate of 37 percent. Russia made just one request, which was denied.
While other digital giants such as Google and Twitter have previously published reports on government requests in the name of transparency, this is the first time Facebook is releasing such numbers.
Facebook has proved useful in aiding investigations without the use of legal pressure. One example is the New York Police Department, which conducts regular canvasses of the network. One Brooklyn precinct credits these searches, made possible by some criminals’ lack of privacy settings, with helping officers collect 199 illegal firearms last year.
But when law enforcement does request private, personal data, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch says that the social-media network doesn’t offer up user data as soon as government officials come calling. “We fight many of these requests, pushing back when we find legal deficiencies and narrowing the scope of overly broad or vague requests,” Stretch writes in the report. “When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name.”
But sometimes, it stands to reason, Facebook may give up more than just their users’ names. What that information is remains to be seen — Stretch promised the report isn’t the last of its kind, and future ones will include more information about the nature of the requests. And pulling user information is easy enough, even for the users themselves. In 2010, the website rolled out a feature that allowed users to download a zip file of their profiles consisting of HTML files of their walls, event histories, messages, lists of friends, and images.
In the past five years, a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center to track suspected terrorists added 335,000 names, for a total of 875,000. The list includes thousands of Americans. How many of them use Facebook?