Facebook, Microsoft Release Data Request Numbers

Direct access? Not so much.

Throughout the ongoing NSA/PRISM scandal, one of the most incendiary accusations has been Glenn Greenwald’s initial assertion that major tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google, and Microsoft were givng the US Government direct, unfiltered access to their servers. This access would allow the government to spy on people seemingly at will, and find out anything they want to know, rule of law be damned.

Greenwald is now trying to walk his accusations back, but nothing doing. He said it. Repeatedly. And he should own it.

As soon as Greenwald’s original story was published, outraged blogs and Tweets popped up, wondering if we really were living in an Orwellian nightmare. Pundits took to the airwaves to bemoan Obama administration overreach, and outrage ensued.

Just as quickly, every major company named by Glenn Greenwald issued swift denials of his claims, calling them patently false and misleading. As it turns out, their denials are not just PR. The scope of any law enforcement and national security requests being made appears to be very narrow.

First, let’s start with Microsoft. John Frank, their Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, posted this statement last night:

Microsoft’s U.S. law enforcement and national security requests for last half of 2012

Unlike the Greenwald assertion of the government having unrestricted access to user data and user accounts, the actual requests are much smaller:

Earlier this week, along with others in the industry, we called for greater transparency about the volume and scope of the national security orders, including FISA orders, which require the disclosure of some customer content. We believe this would help the community understand and debate these important issues. Since then, we have worked with the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice to try and secure permission to do this.

This afternoon, the FBI and DOJ have given us permission to publish some additional data, and we are publishing it straight away. However, we continue to believe that what we are permitted to publish continues to fall short of what is needed to help the community understand and debate these issues.

Here is what the data shows: For the six months ended December 31, 2012, Microsoft received between 6,000 and 7,000 criminal and national security warrants, subpoenas and orders affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 consumer accounts from U.S. governmental entities (including local, state and federal). This only impacts a tiny fraction of Microsoft’s global customer base.

Let that sink in for a moment. Microsoft got between 6-7,000 requests IN TOTAL for the last half of 2012 affecting between 31-32,000 accounts. Compare that tiny number with the millions of people who use Microsoft’s services. It’s a small fraction of 1% of their entire user base.

Fine, you say. Microsoft’s numbers are small. But what about a behemoth like Facebook? Surely the government is spying on us there, taking all the information they want whenever they want it. Well, fear not, dear reader. Your Candy Crush Saga high score is safe. Facebook’s numbers aren’t that different from Microsoft.

Ted Ullyot, Facebook General Counsel released his own statement yesterday:

Facebook Releases Data, Including All National Security Requests

For the six months ending December 31, 2012, the total number of user-data requests Facebook received from any and all government entities in the U.S. (including local, state, and federal, and including criminal and national security-related requests) – was between 9,000 and 10,000. These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat. The total number of Facebook user accounts for which data was requested pursuant to the entirety of those 9-10 thousand requests was between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.

With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of one percent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months.

Over 1 billion Facebook accounts and they only got between 9-10,000 law enforcement and security requests affecting only 18-19,000 accounts? You’d almost think the NSA and law enforcement had really narrow scopes to work with or something.

Both statements from Microsoft and Facebook put the lie to the Greenwald accusation that the government is running wild taking everyone’s data to use any which way they want. With as many users as both companies have, the fact that the combined numbers for both are smaller than some colleges and universities in this country suggests that there are guidelines for what can and cannot be requested.

Also, it should be noted that these numbers are only for requests RECEIVED, not for requests that were carried out. Those numbers could well be smaller, since there’s no mention from either Facebook or Microsoft that they automatically granted every request that came across their desks.

Facebook’s Ullyot also takes a thinly veiled shot at Greenwald, The Guardian, and the entire hysteria that has unfolded in the last few days:

We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive.

I wouldn’t count on it, Mr. Ullyot. Once an idea takes root in the blogosphere and on Twitter, it’s real hard for actual facts to get in the way. Still, it’s nice to get some clarification on just how often user data and user information is requested, and on what scale.

Jump to top

Create a PageThis is the LGF Pages posting bookmarklet. To use it, drag this button to your browser's bookmark bar, and title it 'LGF Pages' (or whatever you like). Then browse to a site you want to post, select some text on the page to use for a quote, click the bookmarklet, and the Pages posting window will appear with the title, text, and any embedded video or audio files already filled in, ready to go.
Or... you can just click this button to open the Pages posting window right away.
Last updated: 2016-01-01 10:29 am PST
LGF User's Guide RSS Feeds Tweet

Help support Little Green Footballs!

Subscribe now for ad-free access!Register and sign in to a free LGF account before subscribing, and your ad-free access will be automatically enabled.

Donate with
PayPal
Square Cash Shop at amazon
as an LGF Associate!
Recent PagesClick to refresh
Jack Klatt - Highway Lines (Live at Radio Heartland)Jack Klatt performs 'Highway Lines' from his 2019 album, 'It Ain't The Same,' live in the studio of Radio Heartland at The Current.
Thanos
19 hours, 56 minutes ago
Views: 136 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Brittany Howard Performing ‘13th Century Metal’ Live on KCRW Brittany Howard's solo debut album Jaime puts her powerhouse vocals on full display. It also takes us front and center to her very personal journey of loss, love and self-discovery. We're thrilled to welcome her back to KCRW to ...
Thanos
2 days, 14 hours ago
Views: 223 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
(15) Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Electric Soul (Live on KEXP) kexp.org presents Rodrigo y Gabriela performing "Electric Soul" live in the KEXP gathering space. Recorded July 14, 2019. Host: Stevie ZoomAudio Engineers: Kessiah Gordon & Kevin SuggsAudio Mixer: David MarchantCameras: Jim Beckmann, Alaia D'Alessandro, Luke Knecht & Justin WIlmoreEditor: ...
Thanos
2 days, 14 hours ago
Views: 233 • Comments: 1 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Fresh Air (Remastered) Quicksilver Messenger Service Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group Fresh Air (Remastered) · Quicksilver Messenger Service Classic Masters ℗ 2001 Capitol Records, LLC Released on: 2007-01-01 Producer: Quicksilver Messenger ServiceStudio Personnel, Mastering Engineer: Robert VosgienComposer: Jesse Oris Farrow Auto-generated by YouTube. ...
Thanos
2 days, 14 hours ago
Views: 248 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Jon Anderson - Song of SevenFrom the 1980 album "Song of Seven".
Thanos
4 days, 20 hours ago
Views: 287 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
#Thegreatpoolpondconversion - 191006 Today we have to take a few steps back in explanation. The pond is going to have three levels. Sort of an upside down ziggurat. The lowest level, in the center we call ‘the channel’. After the liner is ...
DangerMan
6 days, 17 hours ago
Views: 413 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 4
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Jon Anderson - Change We MustFrom the 1994 album "Change We Must".
Thanos
1 week, 1 day ago
Views: 491 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
North Mississippi Allstars - ‘Drunk Outdoors’ [Audio Only]From the album 'Up and Rolling,' available October 4, 2019: geni.us
Thanos
1 week, 1 day ago
Views: 459 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 1 • Share to Facebook
Dr. Demento & John Cafiero - What’s in My Bag? Dr. Demento and John Cafiero go shopping at Amoeba Music in Los Angeles. Check out their picks:Cal Stewart - Uncle Josh's Letter from Home (78) Spike Jones - Ugga Ugga Boo Ugga Boo Boo Ugga (78) Johnny Otis Orchestra ...
Thanos
2 weeks ago
Views: 790 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 13 • Share to Facebook
Kelly Finnigan & the Atonements - I Don’t Wanna Wait (Live on KEXP) kexp.org presents Kelly Finnigan & The Atonements performing "I Don't Wanna Wait" live in the KEXP studio. Recorded July 11, 2019. Host: MorganAudio Engineer: Julian MartlewCameras: Jim Beckmann, Alaia D'Alessandro, Luke Knecht & Justin WilmoreEditor: Scott Holpainen kexp.orgkellyfinnigan.com ...
Thanos
2 weeks ago
Views: 562 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook