Google turns over less user data as government requests rise

Government demands to Google for user data jump 120 percent in four years, but the percentage of requests where it handed over data are down.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
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Google's transparency report for the second half of 2013 shows requests are up, but less data is being handed over. Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Google's latest transparency report shows that the company is handing over less user data, even though government requests are up 120 percent since 2009.

The transparency report for the second half of 2013 shows that requests for user data continue to rise, albeit more slowly than before. There were 27,477 requests for user data for the period between July and December 2013, compared with 25,879 in the first half of last year and 12,539 in 2009.

"Though our number of users has grown throughout the time period, we're also seeing more and more governments start to exercise their authority to make requests," Richard Salgado, Google's legal director for Law Enforcement and Information Security, said in a blog post on Thursday.

Google says in its Transparency Report FAQ that government agency requests for user data include investigating criminal activity, courts, administrative agencies, and unspecified "others."

Google produced at least some of the user data requested in 64 percent of those requests during the second half of last year, down from 65 percent in the first half of 2013 and 76 percent in the second half of 2010, the first time the metric was reported. The number of overall user accounts where data was supplied was up slightly, to 42,648 from 42,500 in the previous reporting period.

The United States had the highest number of requests of any country, at 10,574 for 18,254 accounts, far surpassing France, the second-highest country at 2,750 requests for 3,378 accounts; Germany's 2,660 requests for 3,255 accounts; India's 2,513 requests for 4,401 accounts; the United Kingdom's 1,397 requests for 3,142 accounts; and Brazil's 1,085 requests for 1,471 accounts.

The United States and Malta were tied for second-highest percentage of cases where requests produced some data, at 83 percent. Finland had the highest success rate for requested data, at 92 percent.

However, as before, the report is merely an overview and lacks nuance. It does not reveal the circumstances of the requests, or which governments request data.

A request for comment by Google on the impact of the transparency report was not immediately returned. CNET will update the story when we hear back.