We all use Google services every day, whether it's for email, calendar, creating a spreadsheet, blogging, or searching the web. With each service, Google is privy to a lot of personal information. Governments around the world make a great deal of requests for data from websites like Google for intelligence purposes, but not a lot of people are comfortable with this. Because of this, Google started releasing their biannual transparency report, where they issue data on requests government agencies have made to the search giant about its users. The most recent report Google has released shows that requests for personal data from governments is increasing, causing discomfort among users. Watch today's Daily Brown Bag to learn more about Google's recently released biannual transparency report.


Hello, and welcome to The Daily Brown Bag. Today, we’re going to be talking about how the government’s request for data from Google will continue to increase. I’m Chad Hill and I’m joined by Adam Stetzer.

Yeah, good morning, Chad, and good morning, everybody. Welcome to The Brown Bag. We’re talking about privacy today, and specifically Google. This is a great topic on the heels of one of the Brown Bags we covered last week related to privacy in Facebook and how they’re losing a key demographic, the younger teenager segment, as those people are opting more for platforms that let things truly be deleted and protect their privacy a little better.

So, here we’ve got Google in the news because it released its biannual transparency report, and if you’ve been following Google over the last couple years, the issue of privacy has definitely been front and center for Google as they’ve been migrating their terms of service to be more cross-platform, sharing data between their different products just as the whole issue of privacy on the internet has heated up. This was the eighth transparency report from Google, and what’s interesting here is that it’s demonstrating the growing number of data requests that are coming from governments. So, Google’s got all this data on what people do, what they search for, what they look at, their email, if they’re using Google Wallet, the money they spend, and all sorts of other things. Increasingly, governments are asking for that data, so the requests for user information from governments have doubled in the last three-year period, and that, for some people, is quite alarming.

The latest report shows that the U.S. is leading the charge in the number of requests, although Google does get requests from many different governments including the U.K., France, Germany, and India just to name a few. But, the U.S. asked for the most data. In the first half of this year, Google received more requests than ever before, so this is hitting a pretty high pitch here, and I guess the question here is rather people are coming to the realization or will they shortly, Chad, that what you do online is just not going to be private and is subject to inspection, even by the U.S. government.

I think that’s where we are, and I do think this is a tricky topic for somebody like Google, because they seem to have people’s trust, and there’s this whole question not only, as you said, about privacy and use of information for advertising purposes, but now there’s this government angle, so it’s a tricky one. There was a couple things here, like another Pew Research study that came out and talked about people’s desires to clean up their tracks, and it said that 86% of internet users have taken steps to remove or mask their online footprints. Sixty-eight percent of internet users said the current laws are not good enough to protect online privacy. So, clearly there is a bit of a groundswell there.

There is a later survey done that actually was more specific. Pew did this one as well about how the government is using your data, and here are some interesting facts. They’re a little more split in terms of whether it’s good or bad, but 50% of Americans said they approve of the collection of phone and online data as part of any terrorism efforts. Of course, 44% disapproved, but basically 47% also said they thought the government may violate civil liberties and civil rights, so again, the country is in a tight spot here, and it isn’t just the U.S.-- it’s certainly international. This is uncharted territory. The ability to collect this data is just at a point now that it’s never been at before. It can all be done on such a massive scale that it’s really a game-changer out there. So, I don’t know where it’s going to go, Adam. Something is definitely going to change, Adam, because this is being hit from several angles at the same time.

Right, and I know we’ve covered survey results before on who people trust more, Google or the government, with your data, and I guess what these results are showing is that increasingly, the data is going to both places. I think your point is really interesting. Several years ago, the issue was just about internet privacy and advertising and whether you want them to know so they’ll show ads to you. But, with the trends we see hear, and the requests, and what Google is voluntarily sharing in their transparency reports, it’s moving beyond that. It’s moving beyond just what ads they’re showing to me and to what the government will know about me and how will they use that in their security profiling. So, this is definitely heating up, and I think we all predicted that it would at some point.

This is still a very young technology, 10-15 years we’re in to the internet, and things are starting to come to a feverish pitch here as things are used more. My guess is that there will be some landmark cases coming up as the courts try to sort out the Constitutionality of some of this. That plays out and sometimes takes years, Chad. We’ve seen that before, and this is going to be one to follow.

We’d be interested in your opinions. Do you trust Google with your data? Do you trust the government with your data? Do you see the direction this is going? Share in some of your comments-- I think there could be a lively discussion around this about the balance advertisers need to create these great, free resources on the internet which are ad-driven versus the privacy concerns which have now escalated up to the governmental level. We once again want to thank you for coming to our Brown Bag. We’re here every day and we hope you’ll subscribe to our YouTube channel.