Mike Isaac

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Google Calls Facebook’s Data Disclosure Deal With the Feds “A Step Back for Users”

privacy_importantFacebook disclosed information on how many information requests it received from government agencies on Friday, the first time a major Internet company has been able to do so.

But Google, in a statement released on Friday evening in response, isn’t satisfied with Facebook’s deal with the Feds.

“We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We already publish criminal requests separately from National Security Letters. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users. Our request to the government is clear: to be able to publish aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.”

Facebook’s data disclosure deal with the federal government comes on the heels of a knock-down, drag-out battle behind the scenes with lawmakers in Washington over the past week. Consumers were on high alert after reports from the Guardian and the Washington Post suggested that major tech companies in the Valley were sharing private customer data with the government via a National Security Agency program, codenamed PRISM.

Companies across the Valley lobbied hard, both in public and private, to be able to disclose to consumers the number of requests for information they received from the government, and how many of those requests they’ve complied with. Google was the most outspoken of the bunch, with other companies like Facebook and Yahoo following suit.

What Google seems to be arguing here, however, is that Facebook’s deal isn’t a win for consumers who want more transparency. As Facebook’s deal stands, tech companies are allowed to release information requests in aggregate and within specific ranges — meaning you can’t drill down on which agencies are making the requests. In other words, with the numbers Facebook is providing, you’re seeing requests from state, local and federal agencies, and there’s no way to differentiate the quantity from each.

Microsoft followed Facebook’s lead on Friday evening, releasing its own aggregate numbers for information requests for the six month period ending December 31, 2012. It too, however, agreed with the overall sentiment desiring greater transparency.

“With more time, we hope [the U.S. Government] will take further steps,” Microsoft VP and deputy general counsel John Frank wrote in a company blog post. “Transparency alone may not be enough to restore public confidence, but it’s a great place to start.”

Update 9:20 pm PT: Twitter legal director Ben Lee issued a statement via tweet on Friday evening, largely echoing Google’s sentiment:

“We agree with @Google: It’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests — including FISA disclosures — separately.”

One source said Facebook continues to fight for greater transparency. Google will do the same; however, it has not come to an agreement with the federal government in its own separate discussions.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work