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.

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Comments on “Facebook Transparency Report: Lots Of Government Surveillance, Bad Copyright Takedown Requests”

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19 Comments
MyNameHere (profile) says:

Positional Play

When it comes to copyright, Facebook posts do stand in a very interesting spot. In most cases, when someone posts an image or a short video clip, they do so with a comment, a review, or use the image to explain a larger concept. Most of it (at the users level) is done without commercial intent. As a result, there is plenty of wiggle room to claim fair use.

There are also a lot of companies posting on Facebook these days, a lot of commercial use. My feeling is that if Facebook had broken it out in such a manner, the numbers would show that most of the removals are related to commercial use (example, a news site using a viral video without permission) rather than you or I posting a picture without permission.

“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.”

The numbers look pretty big, until you consider a few things.

it’s worldwide.

Facebook has a billion active users, and over 2 billion total user accounts.

So 0.0039445% of all user accounts, or 0.007889% of all active accounts – worldwide. 7 in 100,000.

Those are shockingly low numbers, when you consider that worldwide would include places that have significantly less personal freedoms than the US, places that require nothing more than the dictator or king getting upset because you said something naughty about him.

When you break it down, the US for that period was 32,000 or so, and except for a small percentage (1% or less) all were with valid search warrant, subpoena, or court order. In the US, due process rules, and Facebook has the numbers to prove it.

What they aren’t pointing out to you is that the increases in the US are almost exclusively in the search warrant and subpoena areas. It’s taken a few years for the legal system to catch up, but social media is as good a place as any to find things out about someone, who their friends are, who they chat with, where they have been… it seems like lawyers doing the right thing and moving through the courts with warrants to obtain the information.

Facebook proves everything is working fine. Congrats to the winners!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Positional Play

To begin with, copyright isn’t just about “commercial” use: it’s an EXCLUSIVE Right, directly in the US Constitution. Do you understand the word “exclusive”? Or just don’t support the US Constitution if means you can’t steal empty entertainments? Copyright (in US / UK) forbids copying for what you’d term “sharing”, non-commercial, TOO.

Next, “fair use” does not mean the whole of recent works, solely for itself, without some added purpose such as parody / criticism.

I’m sure you and the others responding with little bits of whining won’t now support copyright, but the key fact is that the rightsholders are winning, slowly but uniformly, and you thieves are not winning.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Positional Play

“To begin with, copyright isn’t just about “commercial” use”

Understood. My point was only that on Facebook, companies sometimes use copyright images to promote themselves. That would be a clear violation with few exceptions.

However, a user posting up an image and making a funny comment would likely fall under fair use. A copyright holder may report it anyway, especially if they are using a form of automated spotting. This would account for Facebook rejecting more than other sites might do.

So commercial use in this case in my mind was specifically related to companies using images on their facebook pages to promote themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

STILL WAITING ON THAT ARTICLE ABOUT ERIC SCHMIDT RESIGNING SUSPICIOUSLY. WHY ARE YOU COVERING IT UP? WE AREN'T JUST GOING TO "FORGET ABOUT IT"....

TechDirt covering it up as predicted. Perhaps if Eric could keep it in his pants, this wouldn’t be such a problem for those who worship all things google (like the goddamn idiots).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: STILL WAITING ON THAT ARTICLE ABOUT ERIC SCHMIDT RESIGNING SUSPICIOUSLY. WHY ARE YOU COVERING IT UP? WE AREN'T JUST GOING TO "FORGET ABOUT IT"....

You will wait in vain. Maybe after a week Masnick will have figured a way to finesse it, but it won’t satisfy you. If Techdirt / Masnick ever admitted or recognized facts, it’d soon collapse.

Don’t expect to ever win here. There is no one reasonable on Techdirt except the few who drift in by chance; they expect facts to matter, gradually figure out that responding to the regulars is a waste of time, and give up.

You’re only to the all-upper-case stage. Some hold out until they’re typing chicken noises trying to get an answer to reasonable questions. I advise you leave and not visit again. This is a site where reasonable people are sucked in and kept on slow boil until all hope dies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: STILL WAITING ON THAT ARTICLE ABOUT ERIC SCHMIDT RESIGNING SUSPICIOUSLY. WHY ARE YOU COVERING IT UP? WE AREN'T JUST GOING TO "FORGET ABOUT IT"....

It’s adorable you think that nobody notices the obvious TOR IP address sockpuppeting.

Almost as adorable as the fact that you advise others to give up and not visit the site, and yet here you still are.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: STILL WAITING ON THAT ARTICLE ABOUT ERIC SCHMIDT RESIGNING SUSPICIOUSLY. WHY ARE YOU COVERING IT UP? WE AREN'T JUST GOING TO "FORGET ABOUT IT"....

"Covering it up"? We’re a tiny blog. All the mainstream press covered it.

As a general rule, if we don’t have an opinion on something we don’t cover it. I don’t have any opinion on Schmidt resigning. I didn’t see it as "suspicious." If there were reports of malfeasance, that might become more interesting, but so far I haven’t seen any. But the fact that Schmidt resigns seems… like a non-story for those of us here. It has little impact. I’m surprised he lasted this long, frankly. I thought he’d be gone soon after he stepped down from the CEO position in favor of Larry Page. I was surprised he lasted as long as he did in the new role.

But, other than that, why is it worth a post?

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