Cheezburgers, Warrant Canaries and Cat Memes

Surveillance, privacy and security are serious subjects. So too, for some people, are cat memes and GIFs of screaming goats. And Cheezburger Inc., the premier purveyor of said memes and GIFs, wants its users to know that the company is standing up for their rights.

The folks at Cheezburger have built an online empire on a foundation of animal cuteness and human humiliation, spread across its many sites, including the FAIL Blog, I Can Has Cheezburger and Know Your Meme. The sites are enormously popular and run on the fuel of user-contributed content, much like YouTube, Facebook and others. The Cheezburger sites help set the humor agenda, but because user content is a key part of the sites, they also are a target for the menu of unfunny orders from government and law enforcement agencies for user information and content removals.

As a result, the company has issued its first transparency report, but in true Cheezburger fashion, even a serious subject like this can’t be taken too seriously.

“This report includes totals of requests for user information, insight into our policies, and requests for content removal. I realize this report may be a bit dry, so we’ve included a special transparency report item for 2014. We may be a group of Internet cat picture herders, but we love our users and we are proud to stand up for their rights. If we can take this first step, so can everyone else,” Ben Huh, founder and CEO of Cheezburger, wrote in an introduction to the report.

The report includes actual numbers related to government requests for user information and content and trademark-related requests, but they are delivered with a healthy dose of irreverence. For example, the company reported receiving 53 requests related to content and trademark-related removals, and complied with 52 of them. But there is a third column in the table that won’t be found in transparency reports from Verizon or Twitter. The company also reported no government requests for user data.

The Cheezburger team also included a warrant canary in its transparency report, which came complete with a photo of an actual canary, of course, captioned: Come at me bro.

“As of February 5, 2015, Cheezburger has never received a National Security Letter, an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or any other classified request for user information,” the report says.

There’s a special section that perhaps more companies should consider including in future transparency reports: karaoke songs performed at the Cheezburger winter party. Oddly, Jimmy Buffett’s classic “Cheeseburger in Paradise” is nowhere to be found on the list, but karaoke staples “Bust a Move”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Sweet Home Alabama” all made appearances. Because of course they did.

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