As soon as Mark Zuckerberg said in a lengthy 3,225-word blog post to not build data centers in countries with poor human rights, he had already broken his promise.
He chose to ignore Singapore, which the Facebook founder had only months earlier posted about, declaring the micro-state home to the company’s first data center in Asia to “serve everyone.”
Zuckerberg was clear: “As we build our infrastructure around the world, we’ve chosen not to build data centers in countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression.”
If there are two things Singapore is known for, it’s that there’s no privacy nor freedom of expression.
For all its glitz and economic power, Singapore’s human rights record falls far below internationally recognized norms. The state, with a population of five million, consistently falls close to the bottom in worldwide rankings by rights groups for its oppressive laws against freedom of speech, expression and assembly and limited rights to privacy under its expanding surveillance system. Worse, the country is known for its horrendous treatment of those in the LGBTQ+ community, whose actions are heavily restricted and any public act or depiction is deemed criminal. And even the media are under close watch and often threatened with rebuke and defamation lawsuits by the government.
Reporters Without Borders said Singapore has an “intolerant government,” and Human Rights Watch called some of the country’s more restrictive laws “draconian.”
We brought these points up to Facebook, but the company doesn’t see Zuckerberg’s remarks as contradictory or hypocritical.
“Deciding where to locate a new data center is a multi-year process that considers dozens of different factors, including access to renewable energy, connectivity, and a strong local talent pool,” said Facebook spokesperson Jennifer Hakes. “An essential factor, however, is ensuring that we can protect any user data stored in the facility.”
“This was the key point that Mark Zuckerberg emphasized in his post last week,” said Hakes. “We looked at all these factors carefully in Singapore and determined that it was the right location for our first data center in Asia.”
It’s ironic that Facebook’s own platform has been a target for Singapore’s government to crack down on vocal opponents of the state. Jolovan Wham, an activist, was jailed after organizing a public assembly from a Facebook page. The assembly’s permit was denied, so he switched the venue to a Skype call.
When asked, Facebook declined to comment on what it considers unacceptable human rights by a country, only referring back to Zuckerberg’s post.
Singapore remains be an important hub for the tech industry and business — particularly for Western companies, which have thrown human rights to the wind even as they tout their commitment to privacy and free speech at home. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, DigitalOcean, Linode and OVH all have data centers in the micro-state.
But only one to date has made public commitments to not store data in countries with poor records on human rights.
Why has Facebook made an exception for Singapore? It’s a mystery to everyone but Mark Zuckerberg.