Few Facebook user data requests in Africa

Paula Gilbert
By Paula Gilbert, ITWeb telecoms editor.
Johannesburg, 06 Dec 2018
The South African government requested data on 12 South African Facebook users over the past six months.
The South African government requested data on 12 South African Facebook users over the past six months.

Demands by African governments for information on Facebook users remain low compared to other countries, with the South African government only requesting data on 12 local users over the past six months.

This is according to the recently released Facebook Transparency Report for the six months from January to June 2018.

Globally over the six-month period there were 103 815 requests and in 74% of those requests Facebook produced some data. This was a 26.1% increase when compared to the last six months of 2017, when there were 82 341 requests. It is also an increase of 31.6% from the first half of last year, when there were 78 890 requests.

"Government officials sometimes make requests for data about people who use Facebook as part of official investigations. The vast majority of these requests relate to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings," Facebook explains in the report.

"In many of these cases, these government requests seek basic subscriber information, such as name, registration date and length of service. Other requests may also seek IP address logs or account content. We have strict guidelines in place to deal with all government data requests."

The report shows the total number or requests, and splits this into legal process requests and emergency requests. It also shows the number of users or accounts that were requested, which is usually higher than the total request number, as some requests would be for the information of more than one user or account.

"Facebook responds to government requests for data in accordance with applicable law and our terms of service. Each and every request we receive is carefully reviewed for legal sufficiency and we may reject or require greater specificity on requests that appear overly broad or vague," the report adds.

The US had by far the most government requests for user information at almost 42 500 in the half year, with over 70 500 accounts requested. Second highest was India with almost 16 000 requests over the six months, pertaining to 23 000 users. The UK had the third most requests, followed by Germany and France.

Global Top 5

African countries only feature pretty far down the list, with the most requests coming from Morocco at 69, with 76 accounts requested. South Africa had the second most requests in Africa at nine, with 12 accounts requested. The third most requests in Africa was in Sudan, where eight requests were made in the six months for data from eight users. The majority of African countries, where Facebook is used, made very few requests for Facebook user information, or none at all.

African requests

In South Africa, the nine requests over the six months was only slightly more than requests in the last six months of 2017, when there were eight requests made for information on 13 users, 88% of which produced some data. In the first six months of 2017, the government made only two requests for data on four users, 100% of which produced data.

Facebook began reporting on this information in 2013 and produces reports in six-month increments. The request type has only been reported since 2016.

South African requests between 2013 and 2018

Internet disruptions

When it comes to Internet disruptions, however, African countries make up the majority of those affected, with six out of the 11 countries that had disruptions in the six months being in Africa, four in Asia and one in the Middle East.

The report defines Internet disruptions as "intentional restrictions on connectivity that limit people's ability to access the Internet or specific Web sites and apps".

"We regularly monitor the availability of our services worldwide, and report on identified, temporary Internet disruptions that impact the availability of Facebook products. This report is not intended to be exhaustive."

The longest disruptions were in Ethiopia, Cameroon and Iran, and were for the entire six-month period of 25 weeks and five days.

The Ethiopia disruption has been ongoing since 12 December 2017 nationwide, while the Cameroon disruption in its northwest and southwest provinces has been even longer, since 20 September 2017. The Iran disruption is specifically a blocking of Instagram nationwide and began on 30 December 2017.

The highest number of disruptions came from India, with 40 disruptions totalling a duration of 11 weeks, one day and 12 hours.

Internet disruptions