In wake of PRISM flap, Apple insists it cares about user privacy

Company says it encrypts its customer communications and carefully evaluates all data requests from the feds

Apple has joined Microsoft, Google, and other companies looking to restore their good names after being fingered as participants in the NSA's PRISM surveillance program. The company issued a public letter describing the lengths it goes to in protecting user privacy, while providing a little bit of information as to how many data requests it receives.

Apple outlined some of its data-security product features, such as encrypting all conversations, end to end, over iMessage and FaceTime. (Microsoft has recently faced accusations that Skype isn't as secure as the company has let on.) "Similarly, we do not store data related to customers' location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form," according to Apple's statement.

What's more, Apple said that its legal team evaluates each data request and, "only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities," according to the statement. "In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it."

Regarding the numbers themselves, Apple said it has received between 4,000 and 5,000 customer-data requests from U.S. law enforcement from Dec. 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013. "Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were specified in those requests, which came from federal, state and local authorities and included both criminal investigations and national security matters," according to the statement.

Shedding a bit of light on what sort of requests the company was receiving, Apple's statement read: "The most common form of request comes from police investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer's disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide.

Apple isn't the first company to share data on law-enforcement requests. By comparison, Apple's report was rather sparse. For example, last March Microsoft shared its first-ever transparency report, revealing that it received 70,655 requests in 2012, and more than 80 percent of the time the company handed over at least some info.

Google, meanwhile, has been divulging information about data requests since 2011. In its most recent transparency report, the company revealed that in 2012, government agencies from 30 countries made 42,327 requests for Google data on 68,249 users. (Those figures only include countries that made 30 or more requests last year, so the actual numbers are higher.) The lion's share of those requests was made by agencies within the United States. Officials requested data from Google more than 16,400 times last year, seeking the goods on more than 31,000 user accounts.

This story, "In wake of PRISM flap, Apple insists it cares about user privacy," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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