Inquisitive Governments, Compliant Companies.
More than 788,000 requests for users' data, which corresponds to 328 requests for every million Internet users on the planet. This is the amount of inquiries that governments around the world submitted to 15 different tech and teleco companies in 2013, just through legal procedures. (There may have been many more that were filed through other channels). Which governments files these requests? And how often do companies provide sensitive user data to governments?
Verizon and AT&T: More Requests Than All Other Companies Put Together
Verizon (327,000 requests) and AT&T (302,000 requests) own the biggest slices of the pie. Together they've received over 60% of the total number of requests for user data since companies began filing transparency reports in 2009. And these two companies have published data only for 2013.
Google, started publishing data in 2009, while Microsoft only in 2012. To really get a sense of proportion, it's interesting to look only at the data for the second half of 2013, a period for which we have data on 14 companies. If we exclude the incomparable amounts of AT&T and Verizon, this is what the pie chart would look like.
After Telstra, which deals only with requests from Australia, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Google get most shares of governments' interest, with 37,000, 29,000, 26,000 and 26,000 requests respectively. Because different tech companies and telcos have different numbers of users, an equally relevant measure of comparison is the compliance rate with government requests for user data.
Microsoft Complied with Requests in 81% of the Cases
Not all companies behave similarly when it comes to disclosing data in response to a request. Compliance rates, aggregated by company, range from 33% to 92% Among the companies that received more than 20 requests, Microsoft,��Yahoo and Dropbox top the chart with compliance rates of 81%, and 77%. (Note: Some companies did not publish information on this and are therefore excluded from the comparison.)
USA World Leader in Most Requests per Million Users.
The United States government makes more than 3,000 requests for user data per capita. The case of the US is however also skewed by the massive number of requests received by Verizon and AT&T. Australia's case is similar, because of Telstra's transparency report. Telstra responds positively only to the Australian government, which filed to the company more than 40,000 requests. In contrast, residents of India, Argentina and Netherlands are nearly 20-times less likely to have user data requested by their government than citizens of the US.
Microsoft and Turkey: High Volume of Requests Starting in 2012
Prior to 2012, Turkey never filed more than a few hundred user data requests in any six-month period. In 2012 Microsoft started publishing user data request and compliance rates. Their reports revealed that Turkey has submitted to Microsoft more than 5,000 requests every six months in the past two years. Interestingly, Microsoft complied to these requests 77% of the times. No other company contacted by Turkey complied with these requests, with the exception of Facebook (47%). It's important to notice that this covers also 2013 data, when protests in Turkey started to escalate and the Turkish government responded with arrests of journalists and attempts to shut down social media outlets.
North Korea Asked Microsoft and Microsoft Complied in 84% of the Cases
Microsoft's transparency reports are also the only ones where North Korea appears on the list of countries seeking users' data. The government in Pyongyang requested data for 742 users. The per capita request rate, however, is not possible to calculate. There is no accurate information on the Internet population of North Korea. Microsoft largely complied with requests coming from a country with dubious democratic standards: 84% of requests filed by North Korea to Microsoft led to the disclosure of some users' data.
The following table groups countries by the percentage of user data requests that resulted in a disclosure of data (meta-data and/or content data).
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