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New figures from Amazon's bi-annual transparency report reveal the number of government requests for customer data soared a whopping 800% during the last six months of 2020.

At the same time, Amazon has ramped up a controversial surveillance network that partners its Ring camera systems with U.S. police departments.

The trend has critics asking, is this Big Tech or Big Brother?

Fed in the Clouds
Requests for user data — pursuant to warrants, subpoenas, or court orders — are climbing faster than a viral Reddit stock. Amazon responded to 27,664 government demands for information on customers from July to the end of the year, up from 3,222 in the first six months of the year.

  • German authorities were responsible for 42% of overall requests, with Spain and Italy tied in second place with 18% each, and the U.S. fourth with 11%.
  • But for Amazon Web Services, 75% of the 523 data requests were made by U.S. authorities.

Devil in the Undisclosed Details: Amazon is notoriously secretive about what it does with customer data. In 2015, it became the last of the major Silicon Valley titans to put out a transparency report. Every subsequent year the company has pared-back disclosure on items ranging from takedown notices to account removals.

Public-Private Partnership
Over 2,000 U.S. police departments — twice as many as a year ago — are now partnered with Amazon's Ring doorbell system, which allows them to request footage captured by the devices from user homes.

The partnerships have drawn ire from privacy advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which called the initiative a “massive and unchallenged de facto CCTV surveillance network.”

The Takeaway: Amazon says it refuses requests that it believes are excessive. Last year the company complied with 57% of police requests to Ring, down from 68% the year before.

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