Amazon’s barely-transparent transparency report somehow gets more opaque
Amazon posted its bi-annual report
Thursday detailing the number of government data demands it receives. The numbers themselves are unremarkable, neither spiking nor falling in the second-half of last year compared to the first-half. The number of subpoenas, search warrants and other court orders totaled 1,736 for the duration, down slightly on the previous report. Amazon still doesn’t break out demands for Echo data, but does with its Amazon Web Services content — a total of 175 requests down from 253 requests.
But noticeably absent compared to earlier reports was how many requests the company received to remove data from its service. In its first-half report, the retail and cloud giant said in among the other demands it gets that it may receive court orders that might demand Amazon “remove user content or accounts.” Amazon used to report the requests “separately” in its report. Now it’s gone. Yet where freedom of speech and expression is more important than ever, it’s just not there any more — not even a zero. We reached out to Amazon to ask why it took out removal requests, but not a peep back on why.
Amazon has long had a love-hate relationship with transparency reports. Known for its notorious secrecy — once telling a reporter, “off the record, no comment” — the company doesn’t like to talk when it doesn’t have to. In the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures, most companies that weren’t disclosing their government data demands quickly started. Even though Amazon wasn’t directly affected by the surveillance scandal, it held out — because it could — but later buckled, becoming the last of the major tech giants to come out with a transparency report.
Even then, the effort Amazon put in was lackluster.
Unlike most other transparency reports, Amazon’s is limited to just two pages — most of which are dedicated to explaining what it does in response to each kind of demand, from subpoenas to search warrants and court orders. No graphics, no international breakdown and no announcement. It’s almost as if Amazon doesn’t want anyone to notice. That hasn’t changed in years. Where most other companies have expanded their reports — Apple records account deletions, so does Facebook, and Microsoft, Twitter, Google and a bunch more — Amazon’s report has stayed the same. And for no good reason except that Amazon just can. Now it’s getting even slimmer.
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Security editor at TechCrunch.