Facebook vows to be transparent, and yet the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered that the company is hiding all the ways that it blocks access in the United States, on behalf of law enforcement.
Yesterday EFF released "Who Has Your Back?", its annual report card on how high tech companies respond to government requests for user information. And today they highlight one of the unusual pieces of data they found in researching it.
Facebook has deliberately hidden the fact that it has taken down hundreds of prisoners' Facebook pages. This was in response to the dubiously-legal requests from prisons that want to block inmates from looking at Facebook. Writes EFF's Dave Maass:
We know for a fact that Facebook processed 74 requests for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation alone in 2014. Between California and the state of South Carolina, we also know Facebook processed more than 700 takedown requests over the last four years. We could file public records requests in all 50 states to learn more, but since Facebook's system allowed prisons to file these requests without creating a paper trail, only Facebook knows how many requests it has complied with nationwide. We believe it may reach into thousands ...
Facebook is somewhat unique when it comes to prisoner takedown requests. Based on information we have received through public records requests filed in several states, inmates are more often caught using Facebook than any other service. But this isn't just about prisoner accounts. The fact that Facebook has not been reporting these takedown requests races larger questions about what other kinds of censorship Facebook has been hiding.
Facebook's move is noteworthy in part because the company appears to be so meticulously transparent about reporting the thousands of times it has been asked to restrict access to content in India and Turkey, as well as other countries. But when it comes to ways that it has restricted access in the US, Facebook reveals nothing.
As EFF asks, what else might the company be hiding? Who else has been blocked at the request of law enforcement?