Is Facebook really 'the most appalling spying machine'?

WikiLeaks Julian Assange has accused Facebook (and others) of offering back-door access to US spy agencies. The truth is just a bit less dramatic. UPDATE: Facebook responds.

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Facebook's an appalling spy machine? That’s what WikiLeakers founder (and Martina Navratilova impersonator) Julian Assange is saying. In an interview with Russia Times, the floppy-haired leaker extraordinaire declares:

Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented. Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US intelligence. Facebook, Google, Yahoo – all these major US organizations have built-in interfaces for US intelligence. It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena. They have an interface that they have developed for US intelligence to use.

Now, is it the case that Facebook is actually run by US intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure on them. And it’s costly for them to hand out records one by one, so they have automated the process. Everyone should understand that when they add their friends to Facebook, they are doing free work for United States intelligence agencies in building this database for them.

How does Mr. Assange come to be in possession of this knowledge? I suspect he made a few rather large logical leaps, based on the confidential document WikiLeaks just made available on PublicIntelligence.net: Facebook’s 2010 Law Enforcement Guidelines.

(For the record, I’ve asked Facebook to respond to Assange’s allegations. If they do respond, I will a) be deeply surprised, and b) happily update this post -- on ITworld anyway. Other IDG sites that syndicate this entry are on their own. The response follows in the update at the bottom of this post.)

Those guidelines are worth a few words. But first, some reactions to what Assange said. 

There’s no way Assange can assert that Facebook is “the world’s most comprehensive database” about anything, unless his sources at the NSA are much better than I suspect. He’d have to be very intimate with the details of every other large database out there to make that claim. That’s extremely unlikely.

[See also: Thwarting cyber-bullies and predators on Facebook. ]

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