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Is The Rest Of The World Catching Up To The NSA? Making Sense Of Transparency Data

Article originally published on wired.com November 13, 2014

When Edward Snowden revealed the NSA was using meta data to spy on millions of people not just abroad, but domestically as well – it took the world by storm. More information came out indicating the NSA was also spying on allies and aid groups, which further damaged the United States’ reputation around the world. At this point, it’s widely accepted the NSA amasses far more data than other countries, and because of transparency efforts on the part of Facebook and others – we are able to catch a glimpse into the amount of data requests.

What about the rest of the world?

While the United States is firmly entrenched as the leader in the amount of government data requests, very little analysis has been done of how other countries are playing catch-up to NSA practices. By looking at the data requests published by specific companies, people can see not only trends in the U.S., but of the rest of the world at large. For the purposes of this analysis, I focused on some of the largest global companies that have wide user base across multiple countries: Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The specific data I am looking at is the number of account requests by governments sent to one of these companies. Here are some key insights:

Global requests have dramatically increased in the last 6 months

In the last six months, these three companies have seen a 21% increase in accounts requested by global governments. Facebook has seen the largest number of requests in this time period.

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Twitter requests have exploded

While Facebook has the largest share of requests, no social media platform is growing more than Twitter as far as government requests are concerned. The amount of account requests has nearly doubled in a one year period.

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The rest of the world is catching up to the NSA

Late 2013 saw the rest of the world eclipse the NSA in account requests, and this trend has continued into 2014. In a one year period, the rest of the world has requested information on 38% more accounts, compared to just a 7% increase in the United States.

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Who is leading the charge?

When we look at what countries have had the highest increase in year over year account requests, some insights emerge. While the U.S. is number one, India is number two. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering India has nearly 4x the population of the U.S. In contrast, Germany and France have roughly 20%-25% of the U.S. population and are seeing a huge growth in government requests. Clearly the rest of the world is catching up in terms of government surveillance.

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What does the future hold?

Over the next year it is entirely possible that India will exceed the U.S. in total account requests, and European countries will also continue to rise. Twitter will continue to increase as an important source of data as governments try to tamp down activity that could conflict with their views. Anonymity will be crucial to individuals as they become more aware of how their data is being used by government agencies. The fact that Facebook recently launched a Tor project just re-enforces this idea.

What do you think the future holds? Comment below.

About Nathan Matuska

Nathan Matuska is Director of Product Development at the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group and founder of Analytics Nerd. He has nearly 15 years of experience in Ecommerce Strategies, Data Analysis, and Digital Marketing. He has extensive experience in web analytics, previously working as the Manager of Client services for a web analytics start-up and has worked with other tools such as SiteCatalyst, Google Analytics and Webtrends.

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