The volume of government requests to Google for user data is continuing to increase, something that should come as no surprise in the current climate. In its latest transparency report, the company said that it received more than 25,000 requests for user data in the first six months of 2013, an increase of about 18 percent.
As is normally the case, the huge majority of the requests that Google received through June of this year came from the United States, with 10,918 requests. Interestingly, India came in with the second-most requests, with 2,691. Germany, France and the U.K. rounded out the top five. The number of requests in which Google handed over some of the data demanded by the government is quite high, especially with regard to U.S. requests, where Google provided data in 83 percent of requests.
The kinds of data that Google, and other companies that move and store similar kinds of user information, must disclose to law enforcement agencies can vary quite a bit, depending upon the kind of request or order it receives. It can range from simple name, email and phone number information to email content, private message content and IP address data. Google and many of its peers have petitioned the government in recent months for the ability to publish more information about the kinds of requests they get for user data, specifically National Security Letters. Right now, companies are only permitted to disclose those numbers in ranges of 1,000.
NSLs are special orders served by the FBI on companies that require the recipient to produce data as part of a national-security related investigation. They are secret and typically the recipient isn’t permitted to disclose that it has even received an NSL. Google, Yahoo and Facebook have asked the government to allow them to publish specific numbers of NSLs.
In all, Google received 25,879 requests for user data in the first six months of 2013 covering more than 42,000 total accounts. The company produced some data in 65 percent of those requests, for all governments.
Google’s new report, published this week, also includes quite a bit of data on malware distribution, phishing sites, attack sites and compromised sites. One of the key pieces of this puzzle is the Safe Browsing API that Google publishes and is used by all of the major browsers. The system scans large chunks of the Web constantly, looking for various kinds of malicious sites and incorporating the results into the browsers’ security warnings to users. For example, of the more than 35 million sites in the U.S. scanned during the reporting period, less than one percent were found to be hosting malware. By comparison, six percent of the 275,000 sites scanned in Canada were hosting malware and in Myanmar–which you may know as Burma–only one site was found hosting malware.