The privacy debate rages on as a new study from Surfshark unveils a disturbing trend in government requests for personal user data from Big Tech companies like Meta, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Between 2013 and 2021, these requests have surged, with a massive 38% YoY increase in 2020 and 25% in 2021.
Meta takes the lead, with 6.6 million (two out of five) of their hosted accounts targeted during the study period. Apple, conversely, experienced the fewest requests, with only 416,000 accounts scrutinized by global authorities.
The study found that 60% of requests originated from the United States and Europe. Intriguingly, the U.S. requested over double the accounts per 100,000 users compared to all EU countries combined. Germany, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and France followed the U.S. in data requests.
These requests often stem from criminal investigations or cases requiring digital data. Gabriele Kaveckyte, a privacy counsel member at Surfshark, noted that while these measures may help resolve serious crimes, they also raise concerns about increased surveillance.
Tech companies’ disclosure rates of user data have risen by nearly 71%. Apple leads the pack with an 86% disclosure rate in 2021 and 82% across the study period.
As Big Tech’s data monopoly persists, decentralization and Web3 tools emerge as potential solutions. Some argue that Web2 platforms like Facebookand Twitter will become “obsolete” due to blockchain technology. In February, a decentralized version of Twitter called Damus was launched, positioning itself as a “social network you control.”
Even Big Tech is exploring the Web3 landscape, with Meta making an (unsuccessful) attempt to introduce nonfungible tokens (NFTs) on Instagram and Facebook. This shift underscores the ongoing struggle for privacy and data control, with governments and tech companies navigating an ever-evolving landscape of personal information access and usage. The future of user data privacy remains uncertain, but emerging technologies like Web3 may offer a more transparent, user-centric alternative to the current state of affairs.