The Massive Hypocrisy of Facebook, AT&T Celebrating “Data Privacy Day”

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 28 2013 2:51 PM

The Massive Hypocrisy of Facebook, AT&T Celebrating “Data Privacy Day”

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The Facebook logo is reflected in a woman's sunglasses

Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages

Today is Data Privacy Day in the United States and Canada. To mark the occasion, Twitter has launched a new transparency-focused website to tell users about how governments are snooping on them.

Twitter’s latest figures show government data requests increased in the second part of 2012, in keeping with a trend reported last week by Google. The popular social networking site says it received 1,009 requests for user data between July and December 2012, up 18.8 percent from the first part of the year. Of the total 1,858 requests made over the full 12-month period, 80 percent came from authorities in the United States. (This presumably reflects the fact that the United States has more Twitter users than any other country, by quite a significant margin.)

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Data Privacy Day, ironically, is a government-backed initiative that aims to “empower people to protect their privacy and control their digital footprint and escalate the protection of privacy and data as everyone’s priority.” The day began in the United States in 2008 as a spinoff from a similar European data protection initiative. It is largely a tokenistic event, evidenced by its endorsement in 2009 by both the House of Representatives and the Senate—both of which have repeatedly voted against privacy concerns by approving controversial “warrantless wiretapping” law the FISA Amendments Act.

It’s also somewhat cringe-inducing that Facebook is listed as a “Gold Sponsor” of Data Privacy Day, as is AT&T. Facebook is at the center of controversies over privacy violations almost every week, and AT&T was allegedly complicit in “massive and illegal” program of unconstitutional surveillance initiated under the presidency of George W. Bush after 9/11. Perhaps these companies are trying to suddenly redeem themselves by encouraging people to care about privacy. Or perhaps their involvement is little more than a cynical public relations effort. I’ll let you be the judge.

You can find out more about Data Privacy Day here.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.