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Yahoo! Comes! Clean! On! Global! Government! Data! Requests!

Guess who comes sniffing around most often?

Website security in corporate America

Yahoo! has joined such companies as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter in pledging to release semiannual reports on how often it responds to requests from governments for information about its users.

The first such report, published on Friday, summarizes data compiled from January 1 through June 30, 2013, and it shows predictable patterns.

US government agencies made 12,444 data requests of Yahoo! during the period – as many as the next five most inquisitive countries combined. They also named 40,322 Yahoo! accounts in their requests, which was nearly twice as many as all of the other countries on the list put together.

The disclosure comes two months after a statement from CEO Marissa Mayer in which she said the firm had received "between 12,000 and 13,000 requests" from the US for the period between December 1, 2012 and May 31, 2013.

Yahoo!'s figures jibe with other companies' transparency reports, which have universally named the US as the most frequent source of data requests. In Google's most recent report, for example, the Chocolate Factory fielded 8,438 requests from US agencies, which was similarly as many as the next five countries combined.

Of the 12,444 requests Yahoo! received from the US, 92 per cent resulted in the company disclosing some data to the government.

In 4,604 of those cases, the Purple Palace disclosed "content," which it says might include "words in a communication (e.g., Mail or Messenger), photos on Flickr, files uploaded, Yahoo Address Book entries, Yahoo Calendar event details, thoughts recorded in Yahoo Notepad or comments or posts on Yahoo Answers or any other Yahoo property."

How Yahoo! handled data requests from other countries varied widely. For example, Germany was the second most persistent pest, having made 4,295 requests, but Yahoo! couldn't find data for 10 per cent of those and it rejected 19 per cent.

The country least likely to have its data requests honored by Yahoo! was Singapore, which had its requests denied 41 per cent of the time. Yahoo! also denied 34 per cent of requests from both Australia and India, and 27 per cent of requests from the UK.

According to a Friday blog post by Yahoo! general counsel Ron Bell, "We regularly push back against improper requests for user data, including fighting requests that are unclear, improper, overbroad or unlawful."

The country that submitted the least number of data requests was New Zealand with 9, followed by Ireland with 17 and Canada with 29. Curiously, 90 per cent of Canada's requests resulted in disclosure of content, the highest rate of any country.

Unlike Google, Yahoo! does not include government requests to remove users' content, whether for copyright reasons or otherwise, in its transparency report.

The report does remind us, however, that Yahoo! is currently petitioning the US government to allow it to disclose more information about data requests it received under the super-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court process, something it is currently barred from discussing.

"Democracy demands accountability, and accountability requires transparency," Yahoo!'s Bell wrote in his blog post. "We hope our report encourages governments around the world to more openly share information about the requests they make for users' information."

Yahoo! says it will update the report with new data every six months. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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