Yahoo rejected only five percent of government data requests in United States

Yahoo released a transparency report Thursday that reveals how frequently the Sunnyvale company responded to thousands of requests from governments around the world for Yahoo users’ emails, instant messages, Flickr photos, calendar entries, thoughts recorded on Yahoo Notepad and other data.

Such reports — this is Yahoo’s fourth biannual report since 2013 — have become a common way for tech firms to show that they’re keeping user privacy in mind amid revelations that government bodies such as the U.S. National Security Agency are increasingly seeking Internet data from Silicon Valley with or without a company’s cooperation.

“We evaluate each government request with a focus on minimizing disclosure of user data and we publish a transparency report to promote accountability and transparency,” said a blog post Thursday from Ron Bell, Yahoo’s general counsel. (Bell also noted that the company recently introduced an end-to-end encryption extension for Yahoo Mail and intends to roll out encryption for all email users by the end of the year.)

The number of requests was slightly down from the last reporting period, which the company believes is partly due to a new Yahoo policy to notify its users before their information is disclosed, said spokeswoman Suzanne Philion.

In the United States, of 4,865 data requests for data on more than 9,700 Yahoo users during the last six months of 2014, Yahoo rejected 5 percent of the requests for which it had data, disclosed non-content data (name, location, IP address, etc.) for 59 percent of requests and disclosed user content for 24 percent. Most data requests are made during a criminal investigation, the company said.

Of the other countries where government agencies sought data on thousands of users, Yahoo’s response varied. Yahoo rejected 76 percent of German requests, 68 percent of French requests, 40 percent of Indian requests and only six percent of Taiwanese requests.

Yahoo also revealed about eight requests by governments that asked Yahoo to remove some of its content. Yahoo said it denied requests by a Malaysian government agency to remove Yahoo News comments deemed to be religiously offensive, but it complied with a handful of requests from Brazil, India and the United States.

Here is how Yahoo described some of those removal requests:

India – We received a request from an Indian law enforcement agency to remove allegedly defamatory comments posted to a Yahoo Group. We rejected the request because it was not properly served and provided the Indian law enforcement agency with instructions for how to properly serve its request. We did not receive a properly addressed request as of the close of this reporting period.

Malaysia – We received a request from a Malaysian government agency to remove a user comment to a Yahoo News article because it allegedly contained religiously offensive statements. We rejected the request because it was not served properly and we provided the Malaysian government agency with instructions for how to submit a properly addressed request. By the time the Malaysian government agency provided proper service, the news article and all associated user comments had been removed for unrelated reasons.

United States – We received a court order from a U.S. government agency to remove content from specified domains. Yahoo did not host any of the domains or content so we did not comply with the order.

Above: A Yahoo gumball machine at the doorway of Yahoo’s corporate headquarters in Sunnyvale in January. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)


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