Facebook and Google front Senate domestic violence inquiry

Tech giants Facebook and Google are blocking one in five data requests from Australian law enforcement.

A Senate committee investigating violence against women on Tuesday heard evidence from the platforms, which can be used as vehicles for abuse.

Google received 4353 data access requests, including a further 23 requests where someone’s life was at risk, from Australian authorities during 2019.

Facebook had 943 requests but both have revealed they only disclosed information 80 per cent of the time.

This is because one in five requests were deemed either “too vague or broad” for them to comply, or did not demonstrate legal authority.

“The reasons why we tend to not disclose data … (include) the agency has requested data about a Google account holder that actually isn’t a citizen or not a resident in Australia, and therefore is not within the Australian law enforcement jurisdiction to investigate,” Google Australia spokeswoman Samantha Yorke said.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the government was considering giving it powers around serious adult cyber abuse.

“I have to admit, while we welcome it to a certain degree I’m also scared to death,” she said.

“There’s so much complexity there about what is considered serious cyber abuse.”

Ms Inman Grant said abusers often set up multiple fake accounts to target victims, which prompted questions from the committee about identity verification.

Ms Yorke said verification using passports and driver’s licences was a conversation Google was “very open to exploring more”.

“It would clearly be an advantage for the cases where abuse has been investigated,” she said.

“It would provide a much more reliable set of data to be able to share with law enforcement and agencies.”

However, Ms Yorke warned were privacy concerns surrounded giving information to private companies.

“It obviously introduces other obligations on industry as well to have the mechanisms in place to be able to authenticate those documents and to validate those documents,” she said.

Facebook spokeswoman Mia Garlick agreed, adding “I just don’t think we are there yet”.

“People tend not to advocate for companies like Facebook to collect more data,” Ms Garlick said.

In the second quarter of 2020, Facebook removed 2.4 million pieces of content for bullying and harassment, 22.5 million pieces hate speech and 35.7 million pieces of adult nudity.

Facebook spokeswoman Mia Garlick said it did not tally the number of reports because multiple users could report the same piece of content.

“If there’s a football game and the winning football team posts up a congratulatory message about their victory, we’ll often see a large number of reports by the losing football team fans,” Ms Garlick said.

Evidence from the inquiry will help inform the next National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

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