Most of us share massive amounts of personal information online, and Big Tech companies are in many ways the gatekeepers of this data. But how much do they share with the authorities? And how often do governments request user data?
This is evident from new research by VPN provider SurfSharkis the answer a lot, and a lot more.
As described in SurfShark’s new report which analyzed requests for user data that Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft received from government agencies from 177 countries between 2013 and 2021, Tech giants get a lot of requests for user data, and usually they comply.
Of the four Big Tech companies surveyed, Apple was the most willing, complying with 82% of user data requests, compared to Meta (72%), Google (71%), and Microsoft (68%). Interestingly, Big Tech was more compliant in the UK compared to global figures, disclosing user data 81.6% of the time.
The report shows that the US and Europe make the most requests for user data, accounting for 60% of all cases between 2013 and 2021. Germany was second only to the US globally, with 648 requests per 100,000 people. The UK government ranks fourth, requesting seven times more user data from Big Tech companies than the global average. Looking at the top 10, five countries come from the EU, with the US, Singapore, UK, Australia and Taiwan making up the rest.
Governments are increasingly requesting this information, presumably in response to the peak in online crime in recent years: the number of accounts accessed has more than quadrupled between 2013 and 2021, in total 6.6 million. This data is often used to help criminalsalready in investigations, but it can also help settle civil or administrative cases where digital evidence is needed. This can include specific user information, from IP addresses to device locations.
In addition to requesting data from technology companies, authorities are now exploring more ways to monitor and address crime through online services, said Gabriele Kaveckyte, Privacy Counsel at Surfshark.
Last year, the EU proposed a regulation that would oblige internet providers to detect, report and remove abuse-related content. Although a remarkable cause, some expressed to assure that the new laws would undermine end-to-end encryption and thus user privacy.
“On the one hand, the introduction of such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organizations expressed concern about encouraging surveillance techniques that could later be used, for example, to track down political rivals,” says Kaveckyte.
Big Tech has been battling each other and authorities over data confidentiality over the past few years. Fear for state supervision are rampant, as well as doubts about technology companies’ ability to keep data safe, especially in light of a number of high-profile to leak.