Apple's Interactive Transparency Report Shows Uptick in Government Data Requests

Source: AppleSource: Apple

Apple published its latest transparency report with a new twist. Instead of merely releasing the information as a boring old PDF, the company introduced an interactive website that makes looking up government data requests for a specific country and date range easier than before. The report, which covers from January to June 2018, also shows a nine percent increase in global data requests over the previous reporting period.

The new website defaults to an alphabetized list of countries through which you can horizontally scroll to find the one you're looking for. Each country is represented with a card that displays the number of each type of data request--Device, Financial Identifier, Account and Emergency--Apple received from its government. The cards also link to a more in-depth report that provides easy access to historical data from older reports.

This setup is much easier to navigate than a PDF, but for people seeking more information about how Apple responds to government data requests, the old-fashioned report is still available via the company's website. (You can also download a CSV file containing the pertinent information by clicking the "Report CSVs" link on the new site.) It's not hard to imagine more people actually reading the transparency report with this new setup.

But they might not like what they find. The nine percent increase cited above refers specifically to requests for device information, of which Apple received 32,342 requests affecting 163,823 devices. Other request types saw their own spikes: requests for account data jumped 25 percent to 4,177 requests affecting 40,641 accounts as well as a 30 percent increase in requests to preserve data while governments sought access to it.

Those are just the requests for which Apple can provide detailed information. Other requests, such as national security letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) orders, can only be vaguely discussed by the companies receiving them. They're limited to revealing a range of requests from a given time period, and with this report Apple moved from its previous 0-250 ranges to the industry standard 0-500 ranges.

This updated approach to publishing transparency reports is part of Apple's broader shifts regarding consumer privacy. The company also introduced new tools, first in Europe and then in the U.S., making it easier to find out exactly what information it's associated with your account. It's also included better security technologies with each new release--hardware or software--to help people feel more comfortable about their privacy.