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Facebook's "Co-operation Troubles" with Authorities Persist

Zacks Equity Research

Facebook, Inc. FB finds itself increasingly at loggerheads with authorities across different countries who accuse the social media giant of repeatedly failing to co-operate with them on extremely sensitive matters.

Recently, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has accused Facebook of not removing offensive content that Palestinians post against the country on the network. As per a Bloomberg report, Israel has seen an unprecedented increase in “lone wolf” attacks by Palestinians and the government feels that posts backing such gruesome incidents on social media platforms like Facebook tend to glorify such ghastly acts.

Per media reports, in a stern statement, the minister said, “Facebook today, which brought an amazing, positive revolution to the world, sadly, we see this since the rise of ISIS and the wave of terror, it has simply become a monster.”

“Facebook today sabotages, it should be known, sabotages the work of the Israeli police, because when the Israeli police approach them, and it is regarding a resident of Judea and Samaria, Facebook does not cooperate.”

Judaea and Samaria refer to present day West Bank, where the Israel-Palestine conflict has been going on for close to half a century.

Facebook, in a statement, said that “we work regularly with safety organizations and policymakers around the world, including Israel, to ensure that people know how to make safe use of Facebook. There is no room for content that promotes violence, direct threats, terrorist or hate speeches on our platform."

Facebook’s statement however doesn’t seem to have pacified the authorities. Israel’s government is now drafting a legislation that will help it “order” social services like Facebook, Twitter TWTR and Alphabet’s GOOGL YouTube to remove posts that the government feels will likely  propagate terrorism, as per Reuters.

Facebook at present is facing similar issues in Brazil. Last week, a federal court in the city of Londrina sealed Facebook’s funds worth 19.5 reais or $6 million held in the country for constantly refusing to handover data pertaining to a WhatsApp user involved in drug trafficking, even after repeated court orders. Per media reports, though WhatsApp functions as an independent entity, it does not have any bank accounts in Brazil and so the court froze the funds of its parent organization. Further, Facebook is facing an antitrust probe in Germany.

Recently, however, Facebook won a big lawsuit against Belgium’s data protection authority. In 2015, the Belgian Privacy Commission had sued Facebook to prevent it from tracking information of non-users who visit Facebook’s public pages.However, the regulatory body’s claim was rejected by the Brussels Appeals Court citing that "Belgian courts don't have international jurisdiction over Facebook Ireland, where the data concerning Europe is processed."

Analysts observe that the issue involving Internet companies and law enforcement agencies is highly complicated as neither of the parties can be blamed for what they are protecting. While Internet companies are trying to protect users’ privacy, national security concerns require law enforcement agencies to gain access to this data. The Apple AAPL - FBI spat over unlocking the iPhone of the alleged San Bernardino shooter is a glaring example of this conflict. While FBI was hell bent on investigating the massacre that claimed many innocent lives, Apple was adamant about not creating a backdoor to iPhone as it would compromise the security of other users. Eventually, FBI claimed to have unlocked the iPhone on its own.  

Coming to Facebook, as the company hosts a huge cache of personal data, it will continue to invite constant scrutiny from privacy groups and federal agencies. This huge database is its primary asset for attracting advertisers. As a result, the company has been criticized for allegedly selling this personal data to advertisers in order to boost its top line. Although the company has denied any wrongdoing, we believe that increasing scrutiny by regulators of its data handling practices remains a major concern, going forward.

Facebook, on its part, is also taking steps to control abusive/prejudiced content on its platform. As per Forbes, Facebook has signed up for the new EU Initiative whereby the company has pledged to remove offensive content related to xenophobia or child pornography as soon as possible. The company has a trained team that can review such posts and take it down, if required, in a matter of 24 hours.

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