Facebook sees APAC data request surge

Australian law-enforcement agencies have contributed to a year-on-year surge in requests for Facebook users' data within the Asia-Pacific region.

Facebook's latest half-yearly government requests transparency report has revealed that Australian government agencies made 829 requests for data from 933 Facebook users' accounts during the second half of 2014, with 68.64 percent of requests resulting in some data being handed over.

This equates to a 37.5 percent increase compared to the six months ending 2013, with Facebook receiving 603 requests, and handing over data for 65.51 percent of requests for the same period the previous year.

Facebook said that it restricted access to three items of content in compliance with a request from a local state consumer affairs regulator for violating local laws that ban "false and misleading information".

"We also restricted one page in compliance with Australia's federal anti-discrimination laws," the company said. "We respond to valid requests relating to criminal cases. Each and every request we receive is checked for legal sufficiency, and we reject or require greater specificity on requests that are overly broad or vague," it said.

Of the countries in the APAC region that were included in Facebook's transparency report, Australia was bested only by India in terms of data request volume, which saw a 52 percent increase in data requests for the six months compared to the same period the prior year.

Indian law-enforcement agencies made 5,473 requests for data from 7,281 Facebook users' accounts for the period, with 44.7 percent of requests resulting in content being handed over.

In fact, several countries in the APAC region saw marked increases in the number of requests from government agencies for Facebook users' data.

Facebook received 139 requests for data from 151 accounts from New Zealand authorities, up from just 80 requests for data from New Zealand agencies for the same period ending 2013. For the latter half of 2014, Facebook said it provided data for 62.6 percent of requests.

"We restricted access in New Zealand to one item in compliance with a Court Suppression Order made by the Chief High Court Judge of New Zealand," Facebook stated.

Hong Kong authorities made 39 requests from 51 accounts, up from 25 requests the previous year, while Malaysian agencies made 17 requests for data -- up from 16 last year -- with only 23.5 percent of requests resulting in the production of data.

Pakistan saw 100 data requests from 152 accounts, up from 2013's tally of 126 requests, with 42 percent of requests granted some data. Singapore authorities submitted 177 requests from 194 accounts, up from the previous year's 141 requests.

Taiwan's government agencies made 204 requests from 327 accounts, an increase from the prior year's 193 requests, with 56.4 percent of requests resulting in some data. Indonesian authorities submitted just five requests from 21 accounts, of which 40 percent resulted in some data being offered by Facebook. Indonesia's 2013 request tally was not listed.

The United States, however, topped the list, with US authorities making 14,274 requests for data from 21,731 accounts -- up from 12,598 for the same period in 2013 -- with 79.1 percent of those requests resulting in some data being offered up by Facebook.

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Facebook's latest report comes as the Australian government makes the final touches to its proposed data-retention legislation, which will force Australian telecommunications companies to retain a set of customer non-content telecommunications data -- or metadata -- for a minimum of two years.

Despite the debate surrounding the proposed legislation before parliament, Australia's law-enforcement and intelligence agencies have maintained that a minimum mandatory time frame for the retention of such data is vital for the investigation of serious crime and terrorism.

However, over-the-top communications services based in areas outside of Australia, such as Facebook and Twitter, are not included in the proposed data-retention scheme, with law-enforcement agencies using other legal channels to secure data from such services.

Along with its latest transparency report, Facebook has also updated its "community standards" guidelines, giving users more clarity on acceptable posts -- relating to nudity, violence, hate speech, and other contentious topics.

The social network said on Monday that it does not allow a presence from groups promoting "terrorist activity, organised criminal activity, or promoting hate".

The new guidelines say Facebook will take down "graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence".

Nudity is also removed in many cases, but allowed for images of breastfeeding, art, or medical conditions.

"These standards are designed to create an environment where people feel motivated and empowered to treat each other with empathy and respect," said a blog post from Facebook global policy chief Monika Bickert and deputy general counsel Chris Sonderby. "While our policies and standards themselves are not changing, we have heard from people that it would be helpful to provide more clarity and examples, so we are doing so with today's update."

The new guidelines say Facebook members should use their "authentic name", a move that appears to head off criticism from people who use stage or performance names instead of their legal name.

With AAP

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