Reddit's first transparency report reveals requests for user data

Last year, the social news site complied with 32 of 55 requests for user information, though the site says it generally ignores government demands that it not inform people when their data has been requested.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Reddit received 218 requests last year to remove specific content, complying with 68 of them. Reddit

Reddit has joined the likes of Google and Facebook in releasing its first transparency report that details requests for user data and for the removal of content.

In a blog post Thursday, the social news site said it regularly gets requests from government agencies and law enforcement for data on its users, as well as requests to remove certain content. Reddit also sometimes receives such requests from private individuals via subpoenas and legal documents .

In 2014, the site received 55 requests for user information, a small number in comparison to the volume received by Google, Facebook and other tech players. But each request still poses a challenge to Reddit since it must decide whether to comply with it or reject it. Complying represents a potential risk to the privacy of its users, but rejecting a request could put the company into a legal skirmish with the requestor.

Reddit essentially serves as a large community message board, with people posting content to a range of subreddits, or threads, that cover a host of topics. Reddit is also known for its Ask Me Anything (AMAs), live, online events in which people get to ask questions of celebrities and other notable figures.

Facing the 55 requests for user information last year, Reddit said it provided some information in 32 of them and that 78 users accounts were named in the requests. The company also said it successfully challenged two civil subpoenas that were seeking data on more than a dozen anonymous users.

The company also attempts to inform users when their data is requested.

"Many government requests we receive contain demands to withhold notice from users that carry no legal weight," Reddit said in its blog. "We actively disregard these non-binding demands. Our goal is to give users the information they need to seek legal advice before their records are disclosed. As stated in our privacy policy, we provide advance notice to affected users unless prohibited by a court order or where we decide delayed notice is appropriate based on clear criteria."

Last year, Reddit also received 218 requests to remove specific content. Of those, Reddit complied with 68. Most of the requests were for alleged copyright and trademark violations. Many were rejected because they did not contain information required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Some takedown requests called for the removal of entire subreddits, or threads, which Reddit considers too broad. A large volume of the copyright takedown requests pointed to user-submitted URLs linked to content on other sites. Those requests were trickier than others because links don't typically infringe on copyrights. As a result, Reddit had to "exercise extra scrutiny in assessing takedowns for links."

Reddit also added that "real humans" review every request to take down content.