The handling of user data by Big Tech companies has been a contentious issue for years. Accusations of collecting and selling personal data have been leveled against Meta, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, among others. Yet, the exact use of this data and how much access governments and corporations have to it remain murky. Surfshark’s recent study sheds light on the increasing trend of government requests for personal user data from Big Tech companies.
TREND INCREASE OF REQUESTS
Surfshark’s study focuses on the period from 2013 to 2021 and reveals an upward trend in requests for personal data. The year 2020 saw the largest year-over-year increase of 38%, followed by a 25% increase in 2021. The survey included Meta, Microsoft, Apple, and Google, with Meta having the most accounts of interest from authorities. Two out of five accounts hosted by Meta were requested (6.6 million) during the study period. In contrast, Apple had the fewest, with only 416,000 requested accounts from global authorities.
COUNTRIES REQUESTING DATA
Authorities in the United States and Europe made 60% of the requests for personal data. However, the US requested more than double the accounts per 100,000 users than all countries in the European Union combined. The top countries following the US in terms of data requests were Germany, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and France.
REASONS FOR REQUESTS
The study revealed that most data requests were related to criminal investigations and civil or administrative cases that required digital data. Authorities are exploring ways to monitor and tackle crime via online services, which can help solve serious criminal cases. However, civil society organizations have expressed concerns about the promotion of surveillance techniques.
DISCLOSURE RATE OF USER DATA
The disclosure rate of user data by tech companies has increased by almost 71%, with Apple leading the pack with an average disclosure rate of 86% in 2021 and 82% across the study period. However, Big Tech’s monopoly on user information has led to calls for decentralized solutions such as Web3 tools to safeguard personal data. Some have even suggested that Web2 platforms like Facebook and Twitter will become obsolete thanks to blockchain technology.
WEB3 PLATFORMS AND BIG TECH
Decentralized solutions like Damus, a decentralized version of Twitter, have already launched, offering a “social network you control.” Big Tech companies are also breaking into the Web3 space, with Meta introducing nonfungible tokens on Instagram and Facebook. Despite these efforts, there is still much debate and uncertainty regarding the handling of personal data by tech companies and the extent of government access to such data.
Government requests for personal data from Big Tech are increasing, and the reasons for these requests are related to criminal investigations and civil or administrative cases that require digital data. While this trend can help solve serious criminal cases, civil society organizations have expressed concerns about surveillance techniques. Decentralized solutions like Web3 tools offer alternatives to safeguard personal data. However, there is still much debate and uncertainty regarding the handling of personal data by tech companies and the extent of government access to such data.