Facebook in trouble with the cops

Today's announcement of new privacy tools won't protect Facebook from angry cops around the world who accuse the company of hindering police investigations

Facing criticism from all sides, social networking behemoth Facebook has announced a newer, simpler set of privacy controls. Facebook's "issues" with the privacy of its users' data are, shall we say, well established. But paradoxically, it now looks as if the massive social networking site may be in hot water over its reluctance to share user data, rather than its promiscuity with it.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, law enforcement officers -- especially those operating outside the United States -- are growing frustrated by Facebook's unwillingness to cooperate and suggest that Facebook may even be hindering criminal investigations of Facebook users.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Robert X. Cringley laid out the five lessons Facebook needs to learn and warned "Facebook wants to control the Web, like it or not." ]

The problem, according to the Morning Herald article, seems to be an instance of "do business globally, comply locally." Mr. Zuckerberg's fantastic network is growing by leaps and bounds outside the United States, but it seems that Facebook's guidelines about responding to information requests from law enforcement are skewed toward the workings of the U.S. court system, not those of other countries.

In Australia, law enforcement officials voiced complaints that the company only responds to subpoenas issued by U.S. courts and that language in the company's policies about responding to requests from law enforcement have not been localized to reflect the terminology common to the various countries in which Facebook operates. Australian officials officials are requesting a local law enforcement liason for Facebook who can mediate requests with the company -- though Facebook cried foul at that, issuing a statement saying that putting local law enforcement liasons overseas is "'just not the way companies scale.''

Talking about "scale" may work well in the boardroom at Greylock Partners, but somehow we doubt it will sound so good when the problem at hand is a missing child, rather than topline growth. Chalk this one up to more growing pains; Facebook will probably see the light eventually and harmonize its policies. In the meantime, the company will have to balance the ire of its users about its tendency to overshare, and the ire of cops who wish it would share more.

This article, "Facebook in trouble with the cops," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.


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