Yahoo complied with requests for data on 800-plus Hong Kong users

None of law enforcers' demands for personal details were refused in first half of this year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 3:50am

Hong Kong's law enforcement agencies demanded the personal details of more than 800 Yahoo users between January and June, and the internet giant complied with all the requests.

That compared to one request to Facebook in the same period.

Information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok expressed surprised at the Yahoo figure. "The number is quite high," he said.

Yahoo's head lawyer, Ron Bell, said the company assessed requests according to the legal requirements of each jurisdiction. "We regularly push back against improper requests for user data, including fighting requests that are unclear, improper, overbroad or unlawful," Bell said.

The figures were revealed in Yahoo's first global transparency report on Friday, and come amid growing concerns over cybersurveillance after former CIA analyst and US government contractor Edward Snowden exposed secret online spying efforts by the US National Security Agency.

Yahoo's report covers 17 regions. The US topped the list with 12,444 requests, followed by Germany (4,295), Italy (2,637) Taiwan (1,942), France (1,855) and the UK (1,709). Hong Kong came in eighth, with officials asking for data 849 times - a daily average of five requests. Most were linked to criminal probes.

Of the requests in Hong Kong, 64 per cent resulted in Yahoo disclosing personal information known as "non-content data". This covers basic subscriber information, such as an alternate e-mail address, name, location, billing information and e-mail headers, for example the sender, receiver and date. In five cases, Yahoo disclosed content, such as words in an e-mail or instant message, photos on Flickr or uploaded files.

Mok said: "My guess is they are related to auctions and online transactions with investigations … on the sale of counterfeit goods like handbags."

While most requests come from police and customs officials, Mok said transparency reports should specify the department seeking the data. He called on internet service providers to compile similar reports.

Yahoo Hong Kong - which has an estimated four million unique users - said the transparency figures would be updated every six months.

Last year, Microsoft received 1,041 requests from the Hong Kong government for data, of which it complied with all but three, and Google 447 requests, of which it rejected two-thirds.