Of the nine companies supposedly working with the government on PRISM, six and a half — Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft (which may or may not include Skype), Apple, and Google/YouTube (sort of) — have disclosed the number of government requests they get including the secret FISA court ones, giving us an idea of which tech company the government turns to most often. Only AOL and PalTalk have stayed mum. Of course, the numbers, only give us part of the story. The government deal required that the techies report a lump figure of all government requests — both FISA and otherwise. Because of that stipulation, Google has refused to participate — so we only know the non-FISA numbers from its annual transparency report. It's not ideal, but we are starting to get an idea of how much data the government asks of these organizations.
Most Total Requests
Below you can see a chart of the total requests over the six month period ending December 31, 2012 — besides for Google, which gives an annual report and does not include FISA orders. By shear numbers alone, the government asks the most of Microsoft, which makes sense considering an earlier report delineating the cozy relationship between the two, in which Microsoft lets the feds exploit its bugs against foreign governments. With FISA requests the Google number would shoot up, though it's unclear how much.
Most Requests Per Users
It's hard to define what a user means for certain tech companies. If you use Google search do you count as a Google user? Since, presumably, the government wants to connect data to actual people, a user would have to have some sort of identity or account attached to the site to be useful. Other than Facebook, which proudly announces its 1 billion users, other tech companies have all different types of user numbers floating around for various services. Yahoo, for example, has an email service, Flickr, and Yahoo answers among other things. Using email and other prominent user accounts — like iTunes and iCloud for Apple — we've calculated a rough estimate of the percent of users the requests affect.
For Microsoft, we presumed that also meant Skype requests, another one of the companies involved in PRISM, pre the original Washington Post scoop. But, again, the huge tech giant, which happens to provide a popular corporate email service is asked to give up the most per its user base. That Google number would likely be up there, too, if it included FISA requests.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.