Being the largest publicly held company in the world and upholding the corporate motto “don’t be evil” has to be a challenge. Google has raised plenty of eyebrows with its recent shopping spree for robotics companies, ownership of public user browsing data, and seeming desire to become the world’s single omnipotent internet provider.
However, Google aims to be transparent with the public by sharing its data. One of the most visible ways Google does this is by sharing information about government requests to access user data. The company publishes a bi-annual transparency report, available to all, that contains information about the number and type of requests placed in the past six months, broken down by country.
The report, which Google has only prepared in recent years, has become possible in the wake of the precedent-setting settlement that saw Microsoft and Google arguing for the right to disclose information about government requests during the Edward Snowden scandal.
Google has just released its transparency report for the second half of 2015. Here are a few interesting takeaways:
The U.S. Is the World Leader in Data Requests
With nearly 12,500 requests, the U.S. government exceeded its closest competition for the title of “nosiest government,” France, about three times over. That being said, the U.S. requested information on more than twice that number of accounts, which means it was, in fact, more efficient in the requests it did place than other countries.
Google Is Pushing Back
It would be hard for Google to put out a report showing complete and utter compliance with all intrusion requests from governments. If you believe the governments, each request is made with good intentions.
Google filled about 80 percent of U.S. data requests. In European nations where data ownership laws are stricter, that percentage decreased to between 60 and 70. The majority of requests are used for subpoenas, where Google saw fit to deny about a quarter of government inquiries. Wiretap requests, which are the hardest to prove valid, were nearly always filled with the exception of about 20% near the end of the year.
HTTPS Is the Future of Business
If you run a business, your security architecture should make it easy to scale up in compliance with best practices. Google’s report includes a “report card” about the number of pages online that use the more secure protocol. HTTPS is no longer just an option but a must if you’re in the business of hosting content.
Users Are Getting to Know Their Digital Rights
One of the statistics the report spotlights is requests to be removed from search results. The concept of the “right to be forgotten” has become a thing near and dear to the hearts of European internet users, and requests to be removed from search results have nearly tripled in just two years, growing from roughly 6 million in 2013 to almost 24 million in 2015.
Laws like this are expected to pass soon in the United States, and we can no doubt expect to see the number jump again. However, just because you place a request doesn’t mean it will be granted.
Other Companies Are Following Suit
Google has set a good example of how to be transparent. Major stakeholders in the world of network communications have already gotten on board with this idea. Twitter has published this data since 2012, Facebook since 2013, and this year Amazon and even ridesharing service Uber have joined the ranks of those willing to share details.
The discussion over ownership of personal data is immature at best, with Europe taking the lead in places such as Germany, where lawmakers are beginning to hammer out detailed precedents that state how governments can and cannot request your data.
In the future, we can hope what is essentially our own property — the numbers and figures Google makes available to the world through its analytics engine and other tools — will be restored to us. At least then, if someone is planning to use it for their own ends, you’ll have a say.
Do not, however, expect government involvement to wane even a little bit. For now, this is probably a good thing. While the public shouldn’t have access to your data, allowing investigations that might potentially save a life is hard to argue against. You can do your part by continuing to be vigilant and reading these reports as Google and others do what they can to keep the public informed.
Image by Viktor Hanacek
Kayla Matthews is a writer who blogs about technology and information security for CloudTweaks, Memeburn and VM Blog. Read more posts from Kayla at ProductivityBytes.com.