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Data requests to Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft triple as surveillance escalates

By Shannon Williams, Thu 1 Jul 2021

Global user data surveillance is on the rise, with new research showing increases for the seventh consecutive year.

The study, from cybersecurity company Surfshark, found the global number of data requests to the tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft increased three times over the period from 2013 to 2019..

The User Data Surveillance Report analyses user data requests that tech companies received from 66 countries between 2013 and 2020. The research shows that the global number of requests per 100,000 people per year by authorities to the companies examined increased three times.

The study found that seven out of the top ten countries with the highest number of user data requests are from the European Union. Singapore, the United States, and Australia complete the list of the most surveilled countries.

The global study looks at the number of requests for user data made by governmental authorities, compares the amount of fully or partially disclosed requests, and examines their global distribution per population.

"During the past years, the world has witnessed widespread adoption of physical and online surveillance tools. An increasing number of governments are deploying a range of surveillance technologies under the promise of maintaining order and public safety," says Vytautas Kaziukonis, chief executive officer of Surfshark.

"However, it is evident that the seek to track and monitor citizens can be far more overreaching and infringe people's privacy," he says.

According to the report, Malta tops the list of user data surveillance with 765 requests for user data per 100,000 people, Singapore ranks second (373), and Germany comes third (353). Whereas Kenya, the Philippines, and China are at the bottom of the list with less than one request per 100,000 people.

Despite the European countries' dominance in the top list, the findings showed that between 2013 and 2020, the analysed companies received almost 40% more user data requests from the US authorities than from all the EU countries combined.

The research revealed that Google has been a leader in the overall number of disclosed requests for user data since 2013. However, the company's request disclosure average (58%) has been one of the lowest out of all four companies, just behind Apple. In 2019, Google's disclosed user data request totals were surpassed by Facebook.

The number of requests for user data that Facebook receives has grown nearly six-fold since 2013. Also, the company leads in partially or fully disclosing the most significant percentage of these requests out of all four companies. 

The United States is by far the most active country in requesting Facebook's data in sheer numbers and requests per 100,000 people.

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