Americans concerned about their user data falling into the hands of foreign governments may want to look closer to home.
According to new research by VPN provider SurfShark, the US government makes the most requests for user data from Big Tech companies than any other jurisdiction in the world. The company analyzed data requests to Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft by “government agencies of 177 countries between 2013 and 2021.”
The US came in first with 2,451,077 account requests, more than four times the number of Germany, the number two country on the list. In fact, the US made more requests than all of Europe, including the UK, which collectively came in under 2 million.
While the US and EU were responsible for a combined total of 60% of all data requests, the US “made 8 times more requests than the global average (87.9/100k).”
The number of accounts being accessed is also growing, with a five-times increase in requests from 2013 to 2021. The US alone saw a 348% increase during the time frame, and the scope and purpose of the requests are expanding.
“Besides requesting data from technology companies, authorities are now exploring more ways to monitor and tackle crime through online services. For instance, the EU is considering a regulation that would require internet service providers to detect, report, and remove abuse-related content,” says Gabriele Kaveckyte, Privacy Counsel at Surfshark. “On one hand, introducing such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organizations expressed their concerns of encouraging surveillance techniques which may later be used, for example, to track down political rivals.”
The report also sheds light on which companies comply the most versus which ones push back against requests. For all of its privacy-oriented marketing — “what happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone” — Apple complies with data requests more than any other company, handing it over 82% of the time.
In contrast, Meta complies 72% of the time, and Google does 71% of the time. Microsoft, on the other hand, pushes back the most among Big Tech companies, only handing data over 68% of the time.
The findings may also put a dent in US efforts to ban TikTok and other foreign apps under the guise of protecting user privacy and data.