Apple Releases Report on Government Demands for User Data

PHOTO: Apple CEO Timothy Cook testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committees Investigations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill, May 21, 2013, in Washington.
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Months after Facebook and Microsoft revealed how much of their users data and information the government requests, Apple released its own transparency report, its first ever.

"We have reported all the information we are legally allowed to share, and Apple will continue to advocate for greater transparency about the requests we receive," the company said in the report. "Perhaps most important, our business does not depend on collecting personal data."

Bradley Shear, a lawyer who specializes in internet privacy, said that these transparency reports might be a way to calm consumer fears, especially in light of Edward Snowden's whistleblowing that exposed what the NSA was capable of tracking. "It wasn't until the Snowden matter that it became important for companies to say how they are protecting their users' privacy," he told ABC News. "Absent the NSA issue, I'm not sure if this info would have come out."

WHAT TO KNOW
  • Apple released a transparency report on Nov. 5
  • Report said that "Apple's main business is not about collecting information"

Though Apple provides some statistics on how many times law enforcement agencies requested account information, the U.S. government requires that the company share only a limited amount of information. According to the report, Apple received between 1000-2000 account requests from law enforcement agencies in the United States. Apple disclosed some data for 0-1000 of those requests.

"There is only so much transparency that big tech companies, like Apple, Facebook and Google, can do," said Shear. "I don't think it's really come out that these company's hands are tied."

Both Facebook's and Microsoft's transparency reports also include data from the first half of 2013. Google has not reported any data about 2013, but has filed a petition with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to publish detailed statistics about requests made in the name of national security.

"Our business does not depend on collecting personal data."

Shear says that Apple's report implies not-so-subtly it is a different company than Google. "Google's entire business practice is based around data collection," he said. "When a company has as much info at play as Google does, they can basically giftwrap it and hand it over to the government with the right order."

But because of those individual differences between business models, Shear says that it's difficult to compare tech giants to one another. "Unless there is a document that says how much information the government is asking for and how much that each company is giving up, you don't want to speculate whether one company is more transparent than the other," he said. In other words, it'd be comparing Apple to oranges.

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