Amazon shared users’ data more than 30,000 times in 2020

The data includes shopping searches and data from its Echo, Fire, and Ring devices.
8 February 2021

Amazon shared users’ data more than 30,000 times in 2020. Source: Shutterstock

  • In the second half of 2020, Amazon processed 27,664 government data requests, up from 3,222 in the first six months of the year
  • The bulk of the overall requests came from Germany, followed by Spain, Italy, and the US
  • The vast majority (99.8%) of data requests Amazon processed were non-content requests. Content requests made up only 0.2% of the requests

It was the last major technology company in the Fortune 500 to disclose how many times governments have come knocking on its door but, since 2015, Amazon has been disclosing how many data demands it receives from administrations around the world.

In a bi-annual transparency report published to Amazon’s website over the weekend, the Seatle-based tech giant said the data demand processed in the last six months of the year increased by a staggering 800%.

In total, Amazon processed 27,664 government demands for user data between July 1 to December 31, up from 3,222 data demands in the first six months of the year. The data includes shopping searches and data from its Echo, Fire, and Ring devices.

Unlike its previous transparency disclosures, this round Amazon breaks down the top-requesting countries and, perhaps surprisingly, the US authorities did not make up the bulk of the overall data demands Amazon received.

Germany led with 42% of all requests, followed by Spain with 18% and Italy and the US with 11% share each. The report also removes the breakdown by legal process, and now only differentiates between the requests it gets for users’ content and for non-content. 

Amazon said it handed over user content data in 52 cases. For its Amazon Web Services cloud business, which it reports separately, Amazon said it processed 523 data demands, with 75% of all requests made by US authorities, and Amazon turned over users’ content in 15 cases.

The information disclosed by Amazon falls under two categories, ‘content’, which includes the content of data files stored in a retail customer’s account such as a customer’s photos, and ‘non-content’, that includes basic subscriber information such as name, address, email address, billing information, and date of account creation, Amazon noted in the report.

In the case of AWS, non-content information includes AWS service usage information, and content information includes the content that a customer transfers for processing, storage, or hosting in connection with AWS services and any computational results, it added.

Transparency reports by tech giants

Google pioneered the concept of the transparency report in 2010, but it took off after Edward Snowden revealed massive surveillance by the NSA, in 2013.

Even other big tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter comply with government requests for user data in line with national laws.

For social media giant Facebook, during the first six months of 2020, government requests for user data increased by 23% from 140,875 to 173,592. Of the total volume, the US continues to submit the largest number of requests, followed by India, Germany, France, and the UK.

Twitter on the other hand received 12,657 legal requests for account information specifying 25,560 accounts during the first six months of 2020, from 68 different countries. It also received 42,220 legal demands to remove content specifying 85,375 accounts during this period, from 53 different countries. 

A big chunk or 96% of the total global volume of requests originated from five countries: Japan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, and India.