Apple discloses what it's sharing with governments

We've been hearing a lot lately about the US government secretly gathering information from Google, Yahoo, and other tech giants.

But what about Apple?

The Cupertino-based corporation, not yet caught up in the NSA scandals, has decided to take disclosure into its own hands. They've issued a report detailing what type of information they are sharing with what national governments.

"We have reported all the information we are legally allowed to share," the seven-page .pdf explains, "and Apple will continue to advocate for greater transparency about the requests we receive."

The heart of the report is a table listing 31 countries that have demanded and received information. For each country, the table lists such statistics as the number of law enforcement account requests and in how many of those data was disclosed.

The numbers are intriguing. For instance, Germany has made 93 requests, yet Apple has only disclosed data on five of them. "In cases where no data was disclosed, Apple may have objected to a government request for legal reasons or searched our records and discovered that we have no relevant information."

But the real shock comes when you scroll down to the bottom of the alphabetical table and check the stats for the United States. Not only are the numbers vastly larger; they're also approximations. Whereas the United Kingdom has made 127 law enforcement account requests, the US has made somewhere between 1000 and 2000.

Is Apple unsure? Of course not. "At the time of this report, the U.S. 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."

At least in public, Apple is taking the moral high road. "We strongly oppose this gag order, and Apple has made the case for relief from these restrictions in meetings and discussions with the White House, the U.S. Attorney General, congressional leaders, and the courts."

It's not all about international terrorism. "The most common account requests involve robberies and other crimes or requests from law enforcement officers searching for missing persons or children, finding a kidnapping victim, or hoping to prevent a suicide."

Mostly they share "information about an account holder’s iTunes or iCloud account, such as a name and an address. In very rare cases, we are asked to provide stored photos or email. We consider these requests very carefully and only provide account content in extremely limited circumstances."

Apple deserves praise for this sort of disclosure, but they're not above using the report to tweak the nose of their competition--especially Google. "Apple offers customers a single, straightforward privacy policy…our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers."

When you base your business model on selling hardware at a very high profit margin, you may not need to spy on your customers. But if Apple is truly protecting its customers as much as it claims, good for them.

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