Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple are five of the largest and most influential companies in the high tech industry. While they may work with each other occasionally, it is almost impossible to get them all to agree on something, but it seems the Governments around the world, and especially the US Government have managed to do just that. All of these companies have expressed strong concern over the growing number of requests for information they are receiving from government agencies.
According to the 2013 Transparency Report from Google shows that the number of worldwide requests from government agencies has more than doubled since 2009. Many of these requests are coming from countries such as India, Germany, France, the UK and Brazil. The largest requester of data, by far, however, is the United States. The US issued 10,918 requests for information from Google alone. It is important to note that these are just the requests that Google is allowed to comment on. Requests filed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are not legally permitted to be discussed.
Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director of law enforcement and information security, said, “We strongly believe that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) must be updated in this Congress, Governmental entities should be required to obtain a warrant – issued based on showing of probable cause – before requiring companies like Google to disclose the content of users’ electronic communications.”
Apple released a transparency report recently as well, but due to government restrictions they weren’t able to get quite as detailed in the number of requests given. Their report included the following comments, “At the time of this report, the US government does not allow Apple to disclose, except in broad ranges, the number of national security orders, the number of accounts affected by the orders, or whether content, such as emails, was disclosed. We strongly oppose this gag order.”
The ACLU is also concerned with this trend, with Chris Calabrese saying, “Over the last four years, the number of law enforcement requests in the U.S. alone has increased by a staggering 203 percent.”
Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and other top companies have expressed concern as well over the past several months. Due to the size and scope of these companies, they are getting the most attention; however, smaller organizations are also getting a growing number of requests.
This type of thing should be of concern to all Internet marketers because the more people lose faith in the privacy of the Internet, the less likely they will be to use it to make purchases. At this point, there has likely been little direct impact to marketers (though this is impossible to measure) but if the trend continues, it could cause significant problems.