Facebook publicizes government requests for member data

The social network fielded requests for data on more than 38,000 members in the first half of the year, but no country was as data hungry as the US.

Jennifer Van Grove Former Senior Writer / News
Jennifer Van Grove covered the social beat for CNET. She loves Boo the dog, CrossFit, and eating vegan. Her jokes are often in poor taste, but her articles are not.
Jennifer Van Grove
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Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters. Facebook

In the name of transparency, Facebook published Tuesday its first report of government requests for member data, listing out the number of requests and accounts requested per country.

According to the report, the US, by far the largest data seeker on the list, made between 11,000 and 12,000 requests for data on 20,000 to 21,000 Facebook users in the first six months of 2013. The social network said it produced "some data" on 79 percent of the requests. Altogether, Facebook fielded around 26,000 requests from 71 countries for data on more than 38,000 members.

Facebook said the report covers every request for user data received between January 1 and June 30. The transparency effort is meant to reassure the public that Facebook handles requests for member data with their right to privacy in mind and does not secretly collaborate with agencies like the National Security Agency, as previous reports have alleged.

"We have stringent processes in place to handle all government data requests. We believe this process protects the data of the people who use our service, and requires governments to meet a very high legal bar with each individual request in order to receive any information about any of our users," Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said. "When we are required to comply with a particular request, we frequently share only basic user information, such as name."

Still, the report spawns more questions than answers and leaves out the reasons and agencies behind the requests, as well as the exact information Facebook handed over. It also highlights the US government's ravenous appetite for user data when compared against requests from other countries. India made the second highest number of requests with 3,245 inquiries for data on 4,144 people. Facebook complied in some capacity on 50 percent of those requests.