Application security, Compliance Management, Privacy

Facebook transparency report signals need for privacy guidelines

While Facebook's latest Global Government Requests Report covering the second half of 2016 is an attempt to shine light on privacy issues that go on behind the scenes, some researchers feel the report, which details the number of government requests the firm received for user data, is a reminder that stricter guidelines should be in place to protect consumers. 

The report showed that requests for account data increased by nine percent - from 59,229 to 64,279 requests, globally - over first half 2016. Half of the data requests the firm received from law enforcement in the U.S. contained a non-disclosure order that prohibited Facebook from notifying the user.

Facebook also detailed the number of items of content restricted for violating local law in countries where the social media service is available and found the number of content restrictions for violating local law in countries where the social media service is available dropped by 28 percent globally, from 9,663 to 6,944, compared to the first half of 2016.

Facebook used the report to reiterate that it does not provide governments with backdoors or direct access points to users' information. The company continues to seek ways to work with industry partners and civil society to push governments around the world to reform surveillance in a way that protects their citizens' safety and security while respecting their rights and freedoms, the report said.

Despite reflecting tech companies' efforts at transparency, some researchers feel that the reports symbolize the need for in-depth privacy and data usage legislation. 

“Facebook is correct in calling for a methodology that is hammered out between companies, governments and consumer organizations much like the New York regulations and the GDPR that is on the horizon,” Plixer International Director of Strategic Relationships and Marketing Bob Noel told SC Media. “Technology has outpaced the legal system and the door is wide open for everyone from Corporations, Governments and Hackers to take as much information as possible to leverage it for their own gain.”

Noel added that the checks and balances are needed along with the penalties secure everyone's right to security and privacy and that for end users, adding that the sound of caution can never be loud enough.

Facebook said that reform is needed in the legal process for handling data requests. “The current process for handling cross border requests for data is slow and cumbersome, and legitimate requests are often subject to months and months of delays,” the report said. “We believe that companies, governments, civil society organizations, and academics should work together to improve this process and to raise human rights standards throughout the world.”

“Consumers need to understand that when they click the “Accept” button as part of a software download, they are accepting the manufacturer's End User License Agreement (EULA); which the company prepared with their own interests in mind, and legally agreeing to give up some degree of digital confidentiality,” Noel said. “In the end, privacy is just an illusion on the Internet.”

Experts agree. Chris Olson, CEO of The Media Trust, said people should be concerned with the lack of transparency that goes into what actually occurs every time a consumer clicks on a web link.

“Once that click is made, the digital ecosystem initiates a series of rapid-fire communications between dozens--oftentimes hundreds--of different entities to deliver the requested page,” Olson said. “Not only is the consumer unaware of these information exchanges, but also enterprises, too, are the in dark about the entities executing in their own web environment or the type of invasive information collected.”

He said this lack of transparency also drives security and privacy risks that affect every website visitor adding that toolbar drops, redirects to other pages, exploit kit drops, bot proliferation, pop ups, phishing and more, have the ability to cloak the unauthorized collection, sharing and resale of personal information.

The report is also reminder of how governments around the world are regularly prying open the digital lives of subscribers. 

“Companies are tightly restricted about what they can publish regarding government requests for information, but Facebook does seem to go beyond transparency reports from certain other providers by releasing detailed information about the authority under which many of the requests were made,” Tripwire computer security researcher Craig Young told SC Media. “Facebook also does a good job of not only categorizing the requests but also providing some context for the requests by explaining how wiretaps, warrants, and various court orders work.”

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