The internet giant Google has revealed just how many user data requests it receives from governments. And if you are not a fan of Government agencies taking a look at your browsing history, emails, or data related to the numerous other services Google offers to its users, then the figures do not make for pretty reading.
In the second half of 2015, Google received 40,677 separate requests for user data. Those requests related to 81,311 different user accounts and is an increase of more than 5,000 on the figures for the first half of the year.
Between January and June 2015, they received 35,365 such requests. Still a sizable number, but to see a jump of more than 15% in the number of requests being made in just six months is still pretty shocking.
The figures were revealed in Google’s bi-annual transparency report which also shows a regular and significant increase in the number of user data requests it has received over the past seven years.
Slightly more reassuring is Google’s figures on the number of these requests that Google actually disclosed information for. For the second half of 2015, it was 64% of all requests, a drop of some 10% over the past five years.
This shows that Google is getting more and more comfortable in rejecting requests from countries if it doesn’t feel they meet the necessary legal criteria.
So which countries Governments is it that are making these requests?
Well, it is probably not a huge shock that the most requests came from the US. In the second half of 2015, they made 12,523 requests for user data, which is around one-third of all the requests Google received.
The figure may indicate a higher proportion of US citizens using Google services. But critics are likely to suggest it is indicative of an over-reliance by law enforcement officials in the US on private online data over more conventional evidence gathering methods. Google disclosed information in around 70% of these cases, which was higher than the overall average.
Germany was the second most regular requestor, with 7,491 separate requests, while France came third with 4,174 requests.
In a blog post which was published to accompany the transparency report, Richard Salgado, Legal Director at Google explained that the report was intended to highlight government surveillance laws and practices around the world.
He goes on to criticize the current legal situation the US finds itself in, saying “the distinctions that U.S. privacy and surveillance laws make between U.S. and non-U.S. persons are increasingly obsolete in a world where communications primarily take place over a global medium: the Internet.”
HE goes on to urge Congress to take the necessary steps to bring its surveillance and privacy laws into the 21st century and highlights Google’s preferred option.
What the transparency report from Google shows us is just the very thin end of the wedge when it comes to Government surveillance of their citizen’s activity online. As Edward Snowden revealed back in 2013, Government surveillance is widespread and indiscriminate in the US, and the same is likely to be true for most other developed countries around the world.
In revealing this information, and showing an increasing willingness to reject such requests, Google is showing that it does take the privacy of its users seriously. But for many that won’t be enough, and it is information such as this which is turning more and more people towards VPNs to help ensure their online data remains private.