Rochester, NY
17 April 2014
 

    Google has released its latest Transparency Report for 2012 and the big story in most of the media is that 88% of the time, Google complies with government subpoenas. We’re all supposed to suck in our collective breath that Google would be so cavalier with our personal data:

    In its latest ”Transparency Report,” Google revealed that it received 21,389 requests for information about 33,634 users in the second half of 2012, with 8,438 of those requests coming from the U.S. government. Google handed over the data 88 percent of the time, based mostly on just a subpoena, which does not require the approval of a judge.

    Wait. Aren’t we burying the lede, here? Let’s have a look at the actual numbers. Here is the chart for requests by country, and once again we see that the United States is peerless in its requests for private data. Only India comes within one quarter of that number, and with only 66% of requests honored, it really makes you wonder what they’re requesting:

    Requests by country, sorted by request number. No one touches us. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

    This follows the same pattern we’ve seen from our government in the past. As I noted then, the trouble with all these numbers is that the represent a company’s interpretation of law and of privacy. But considering that Google complied with 88% of the US requests, as opposed to 66% of India’s and 0% of Turkey’s requests, it seems very clear that there is some judgement happening at Google. They don’t appear to simply be turning over private data without discretion, in fact, the 88% compliance number strikes me as proof that the orders coming from the United States were filed in compliance with the law.

    One can argue that the law is flawed. I certainly would. But that is not Google’s issue, nor really is there any other company providing its users with such – well, transparent – information about their compliance with subpoenas. The real question is: why are so many requests coming from a nominally free society?

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