Facebook Transparency Report: Lots Of Government Surveillance, Bad Copyright Takedown Requests
from the sounds-about-right dept
Facebook, which was a bit late to the party, recently released its latest transparency report. In a break from earlier versions of the report, the social media giant has finally moved beyond only detailing requests for information by the government and its alphabet agencies and is now including intellectual property requests and statistics as well. There is a decent amount of information in both sections of the report, but on matters of both intellectual property requests and government information requests, an analysis of the numbers leads to some troubling conclusions.
Let’s deal with the IP section first. The headline of much of the media reporting on this has been about the 377,000 or so requests Facebook got to take down content based on IP issues, with well over half of those specifically being about copyright. It’s not a small number and some are using it to make the case that Facebook is Mos Eisley when it comes to copyright infringement: a hive of scum and villainy. Tragically for those arguments, the validity of those requests makes this all seem far less impactful.
Aggregate data shows Facebook received about 377,400 complaints from January through June, with many referencing multiple posts. About 60 percent of the reports related to suspected copyright violations on Facebook. A “small fraction” of requests were excluded because they were not sent through an official form, Facebook said.
The company removed user uploads in response to 81 percent of filings for counterfeiting, 68 percent for copyrights and 47 percent for trademarks, according to its report. The percentages were roughly similar for Instagram.
By my math, the copyright front shrinks from the 377k number to 150k of copyright content Facebook decided, rightly or wrongly, was valid enough to take down the content. That isn’t a small number still, but it’s not as daunting a number as it originally appeared, particularly when you factor in that Facebook generally sides with the disputer over the person who’s content it is removing. On trademark, the numbers are much worse, with less than half of the requests being valid enough to have the content removed. The overall picture is one in which there is indeed some infringement on a site as massive as Facebook, but there is also an enormous amount of invalid requests to the site as well. Not the best look for those that think intellectual property enforcement on the site should be expanded even further.
As for government information requests, you will not be shocked to learn that they’ve gone up rather sharply as of late.
The ninth Facebook transparency report also showed that government requests for information about users increased 21 percent worldwide compared with the second half of 2016, from 64,279 to 78,890.
As we discuss this on the eve of the federal government looking to renew its domestic surveillance powers, it’s well worth noting that any of the voices that hollered about the dangers of government spying over, say, the last eight years or so ought to be screaming at the sky, and possibly their own IoT devices, about what has only been an expansion of surveillance and privacy invasion for the general public. That the government is able to get away with this kind of one-sided action only becomes more mysterious as the actions against the public increase over time.