Transparency reports have become common practice for reasonably sized social networks. In the wake of PRISM and other surveillance programs, companies have worked to win back user trust by detailing as much as they legally can. Now it seems that Reddit may have gone a step further, while remaining within the bounds of the law.
Transparency reports are yearly reports from social networks disclosing how many takedown requests they’ve received, from governments both foreign and domestic, or from companies using the DMCA to police copyright infringement. One thing that may not appear on the report are “national security letters,” which cannot be legally be disclosed to the public, because they are classified requests for confidential user data.
However, Reddit may have managed to disclose that it has received at least one of these letters, because this year’s report doesn’t contain any mention of national security letters, while last year’s report did. According to Wired, several companies are now using this technique, a “warranty canary,” to disclose without disclosing.
While this doesn’t give users any additional information, other than what can be assumed, it alerts privacy advocates, and adds an important disclosure to transparency reports. It also practically circumvents the gag order associated with national security letters.
Reddit has often been the subject of controversy, particularly because of subreddits focused on hate or harassment. Reddit provides a space for users to be largely anonymous, which is great for privacy advocates, but unfortunately can provide safe harbor to trolls, harassers or those abusing their anonymity. Still, Reddit stands by the anonymity of its community.
Despite the controversy, Reddit is working hard to clean up its image, and a technique like this could be evidence that the company really cares about protecting users as much as it can. It speaks to Reddit’s commitment to openness and transparency.
Since the big social networks started publishing transparency reports there has been a significant increase in the number of government requests received. These reports are necessary if anyone hopes to protect user data from intrusion and the approach taken by Reddit could be another tool in the fight to protect user data.