Apple's transparency report has only become much more – transparent.
For many years, the technology giant released a two-year report on the number of government requirements it received. There was not much to look at at the beginning; a seven-page document with just two data tables. Occasionally, Apple would like to thank a new data table when the government would request new types of customer data.
But it was not sustainable, and it was also not particularly easy to read – especially for the hawkish, handful who will obsessively read and digest each report.
When other companies, like Microsoft and Google, received more demands over the years, they began to expand their own reports to help users better understand who wanted their data, why and how often. Apple knew that document-only reports did not cut it and took a leaf from its neighbors in Silicon Valley and pushed forward with their own plan to publish their half-yearly figures in a way that ordinary people ̵
The company's latest transparency report, released in Thursday, still appears in its traditional PDF format for those who do not like change, but now also has its own dedicated, transparent and interactive corner of Apple's website. The new site breaks down the numbers by country – but also historically to provide trends, patterns and correlation with the year's value for reporting cycles, in a way that is more in line with how other technicians report their government requirements.
And, the company has CSV files for download, which contain fast data for academics to drill deeper into the numbers.
Apple has also revised how it reveals national security requests, such as FBI-issued subquotas such as National Security Letters (NSL) and Orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA). Since the introduction of the 2015 Freedom Act, which was sent in response to the NSA Monitoring Scandal in 2013, companies were given three options to report their secret orders – including the numerical bands that it can release for any time period. Most companies revealed the secret requests in 500 batches with a six month reporting delay to avoid unintended interruption of active surveys. Apple originally launched its numbers in 250 requests, but now expands to 500 requests to standardize reporting with other tech companies. It also breaks down its FISA content (such as images, emails, contacts, and device copies) and non-content requests (such as subscriber records and transaction logs).
For the figures, the openness report shows an increase in worldwide data requirements.
According to the report, Apple received 32,342 claims – up 9 percent in the last reporting period – to access 163,823 units in the second half of the year.
The report found Germany as a top candidate, issuing 13,704 requests for data of 26,160 units. Apple said the figures were due to the high volume of device requests due to stolen devices. The USA came second with 4,570 requests for 14,911 units.
Apple also received 4177 requests for account data, such as information stored in iCloud-up by almost 25 percent in the previous reporting period – affecting around 40,641 accounts, a four-fold increase. The company said that the tip was due to China, which asked for thousands of units worth data during a single fraud investigation.
And the company saw a 30 percent increase in requests to keep data for up to three months to 1,579 cases affecting 4,033 accounts while law enforcement achieved the right legal process to access the data.
The company also said that it received between 0 and 499 national security orders, including secret decisions from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which affected 1,000 and 1,499 accounts. As the company is exposed to a six-month reporting delay, the updated figures are expected in the new year.
Apple did not reveal in this latest report any national security letters where the gag order was lifted.