How Big Tech companies treat user data has been controversial for some time. Meta, Apple, Google and Microsoft are often accused of collecting and selling the personal data of their users. Though, where exactly this data goes, and how much of it is given over to companies and governments, is unclear.

However, a new study from Surfshark reveals requests for personal user data from global governments are on the rise. The study focused on the period from 2013 to 2021, with 2020 seeing the largest year-over-year increase of 38%, followed by a 25% increase in 2021.

Meta, Microsoft, Apple and Google were the four Big Tech firms included during the survey, with Meta having the most accounts of interest from authorities. Two out of five accounts hosted by Meta were requested (6.6 million) during the study period. 

Total number of accounts requested (2013–2021). Source: Surfshark

Apple, on the other hand, had the fewest, with just 416,000 requested accounts from global authorities. 

The study shows that 60% of requests came from authorities in the United States and Europe. However, the U.S. requested more than double the accounts per 100,000 users than all countries in the European Union combined.

Following the U.S. in the top spots are Germany, Singapore, the United Kingdom and France.

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According to the report, data requests are often related to criminal investigations and civil or administrative cases in which digital data is necessary.

Gabriele Kaveckyte, a member of the privacy counsel at Surfshark, said, along with data requests, authorities are also looking into ways to monitor and tackle crime via online services.

“On one hand, introducing such new measures could help solve serious criminal cases, but civil society organizations expressed their concerns of encouraging surveillance techniques….”

On the part of tech companies, the disclosure rate of user data has increased by nearly 71%. Apple leads the pack when it comes to disclosing such information, with an average disclosure rate of 86% in 2021 and 82% across the study period. 

Percentage of partially or fully disclosed user data requests (yearly average). Source: Surfshark

Decentralization and Web3 tools have often been touted as solutions to overcome Big Tech’s monopoly on user information. Some have even said Web2 platforms like Facebook and Twitter will be “obsolete” thanks to blockchain technology. 

In February, a decentralized version of Twitter, called Damus, officially launched in app stores to be a “social network you control.”

Even Big Tech companies have begun to break into the Web3 space, with Meta unsuccessfully introducing nonfungible tokens on Instagram and Facebook.

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