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Summary:

Yahoo has joined other tech companies in putting out a report that shows how often governments are collecting data about its users.

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Yahoo has become the latest tech company to publish a “transparency report” to show how often governments around the world ask for information about users. The report shows that in the United States, government agencies made 12,444 data requests from Yahoo during the first half of 2013 covering more than 40,000 individual user accounts.

Those numbers, which relate to services like Yahoo Mail or Messenger or photos on Flickr, are higher than similar ones posted recently by Facebook and Google. (Update: Yahoo’s numbers include controversial FISA requests; Google refers to a category known as “other” that may or may not include these requests — I’m waiting to hear back).

To get an idea of how the companies compare, here are the relevant numbers for both the United States and the U.K. (where most requests occur) :

Here’s Yahoo. The first column is total requests, the second is number of accounts (for instance, a single FBI request might ask for your account and that of your boyfriend):

Yahoo transparency screenshot

Here’s Facebook:

FB transparency numbers

Here’s Google (the middle column is percentage of times data was disclosed):

Screenshot of Google transparency report

In the case of Yahoo and Facebook, the numbers are from the first six months of 2013; Google’s are the second half of 2012. In the case of Google, which has been publishing these reports for years, the number of demands has been climbing and climbing (the trend is presumably the same at the other companies).

The Yahoo data doesn’t include accounts related to Tumblr, which the company acquired earlier this year.

The new popularity of transparency reports reflects an effort by the technology companies, which have been under intense pressure from governments to participate in data collection schemes, sometimes through a secret court (Yahoo challenged the secret court in 2008).

The rise of these reports is good news at a time when recent leaks, including new ones that show the NSA can break into secure connections, show that surveillance is more pervasive than ever before.

The new Yahoo report is embedded below. Like Facebook’s, it is relatively bare-bones compared to the reports put out by Google, which provides detailed information about content takedowns and copyright requests too.

Yahoo Transparency Report Jan June 2013 1.3

And here’s an interactive graph analyzing the data:

U.S. government requests for user data

| Infographics

  1. not surprising at all. nice that the transparency report is soooooo both ways. we get to see just what kind of voyeurs our government employees really get to be.

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    1. It’s exactly the government employees I’m most worried about. There is so much room here for corruption, it’s scary.

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  2. I’m not sure why this surprising. As these reports start coming our more and more, users are going to start altering their digital behaviors.

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