Facebook turns down govt request over cell phone numbers
ISLAMABAD: The social media networking site Facebook has termed Pakistan’s request to link all accounts to individual phone numbers “improbable”.
“Pakistan had suggested that Facebook accounts be linked with users’ mobile phone numbers. However, the management of Facebook believed it was more feasible to sync accounts with email addresses,” a senior official from the Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) told Dawn on Saturday.
The official explained that the purpose of the request — turned down by Facebook — was to help the government deal with fake accounts, which were often used to spread hate material in cyberspace.
He explained that the concept was the same that was employed by other messaging applications, such as WhatsApp. “A WhatsApp account only becomes operational when a user enters a four digit code to verify the authenticity of the phone number entered by the user,” the official said.
On Wednesday, MoIT Secretary Rizwan Bashir had told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology that the government had suggested that Facebook sync users’ accounts with mobile phone numbers.
However, according to the MoIT official, Facebook maintained that the policy for creating new accounts would remain unchanged.
But the social media giant did respond positively to Pakistan’s request to block blasphemous content and other hate material posted by users.
“Facebook assured us they would look into the government’s concerns on a priority basis after assessing the situation,” the official said.
Last week, Vice President of Facebook Joel Kaplan had met Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to discuss ways to remove hateful, provocative and blasphemous content from the social media website.
A spokesperson for the minister — who has been railing against the misuse of social media for the past several months — said that this was the first time a senior Facebook official had visited Pakistan to discuss the issue of misuse of social media platforms.
Facebook, which has over 33 million users in Pakistan, was banned by the government after a page called for users to post drawings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which was offensive to Muslims around the world, surfaced on the website.
Quoting Facebook Spokesperson Christine Chen, Voice of America reported on Saturday that “Facebook has declined Pakistan’s request to link opening of Facebook new account to users cellphone number.”
The Facebook spokesperson told VOA via email, “We can confirm that Pakistani officials requested that we link the opening of a new Facebook account with [an] internet user’s mobile phone number to address the problem of fake accounts. We declined that request.”
The spokesperson said that Facebook was concerned about government cases against some Facebook users in Pakistan that were currently in court.
“It was an important and constructive meeting in which we raised our concerns over the recent court cases and made it clear we apply a strict legal process to any government request for data or content restrictions,” Ms Chen said regarding Mr Kaplan’s meeting with the minister.