Yahoo gets more government requests for data than Facebook or Google

Yahoo releases its first-ever transparency report.


Curt Hopkins


Posted on Sep 6, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 7:09 am CDT

Yahoo has released its first transparency report, revealing that it has entertained more government requests for information than either Google or Facebook. 

In the past year, Yahoo has received 12,444 requests for information on 40,322 accounts from American authorities, at the top of the count. These requests include information on accounts on Flickr, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Messenger, and other company properties. 

By comparison, Google received only 8,400 requests from U.S. authorities and Facebook between 11,000 and 12,000.

Yahoo said it only rejected 2 percent of the requests. A further 6 percent were returned with “No Data Found.” Of the remaining 92 percent, 6,800 were returned with “Only NCD Disclosed” and 4,600 with “Content Disclosed.”

NCD means “non-content data,” such as subscriber information, alternate email addresses, name, location, IP address, login information, billing information, and “to,” “from,” and “date” fields from email headers. 

The Government Data Requests in the report, Yahoo said, “are generally made in connection with criminal investigations.” However, they also admit those numbers include requests made “under U.S. national security authorities, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and National Security Letters (NSLs), if any were received.” 

Yahoo complained that the U.S. government refused to allow the company to break out NSL requests even by large aggregated numbers, “even though the government allowed other providers to do so in the past.”

Yahoo promised to include such data in future reports if they succeed in persuading the authorities to allow them to do so. 

In the penultimate slot sits Germany, with 4,295 requests, followed by Italy with 2,637, then Taiwan (1,942), France (1,855), and the UK (1,709).

Yahoo is hardly alone among tech companies in hoping to salvage their reputation by pushing for permission to divulge information on how many NSA requests it has dealt with. It is, arguably, the boldest, taking the first legal action by one of the “PRISM companies.” Yahoo filed a request with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court asking that its arguments against the PRISM program be made public.

Yahoo already starts in the negative when it comes to its privacy record. Its reputation was nearly fatally damaged by its cooperation with the Chinese government in the 2004 arrest and sentencing of reporter Shi Tao to 10 years in prison for sharing  (via Yahoo Mail) a Communist party memo on proscribed coverage of the Tiananmen Square anniversary. 

Yahoo was alleged to have shared Tao’s information with the Chinese police with great alacrity and without requiring a warrant, apparently hoping to curry favor with the country’s government. 

During a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to which Yang was summoned to testify, the committee’s chairman, the late, great moral compass of the House, Rep. Tom Lantos, told CEO Jerry Yang and the Yahoo leadership “While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies.”

If the arguments Yahoo claims to have made against the NSA come out, it may do something to increase the company’s stature, however modestly. In the meantime, at least there’s a transparency report. Finally. 

Photo by Ashwin Nellore/Flickr

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*First Published: Sep 6, 2013, 3:10 pm CDT