In brief: On Tuesday, Apple released its transparency report covering the second half of 2018. For the first time, the company also revealed government requests for app removals from the App Store and disclosed several redacted national security letters.
In the company's latest transparency report, Apple revealed government requests from around the world pertaining to app removals from regional App Stores in 2018 over a 6 month period: July 1 to December 31, 2018.
Across 80 global requests received for the removal of 770 apps (a single request can include multiple app removals), 634 were taken down from regional App Stores in 11 countries with China making up the majority at 517 app removals for legal violations, most of which Apple says are related to "illegal gambling or pornography."
Russia came second with other countries including Austria, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland citing app removal requests related to illegal gambling investigations. Meanwhile, governments of Kuwait, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia each sent forward a single request for multiple apps in "violation of privacy law."
Apple also received 29,183 requests for data (such as a serial number or IMEI) of 213,737 devices from 53 governments "where law enforcement agencies are working on behalf of customers who have requested assistance regarding lost or stolen devices. Additionally, Apple regularly receives multi-device requests related to fraud investigations. Device-based requests generally seek details of customers associated with devices or device connections to Apple services." The company provided data for 78% of the requests.
In terms of worldwide government account requests which "generally seek details of customers’ iTunes or iCloud accounts, such as a name and address; and in certain instances customers’ iCloud content, such as stored photos, email, iOS device backups, contacts or calendars." Apple received a total of 4,875 requests for 22,503 accounts, in response to which it partly challenged or fully rejected 363 requests and gave "Non-Content" data for 2,782 requests. It provided "Content data" for 1,227 requests with an overall 82% of requests receiving data from the company.
A total of 15 government requests related to account restriction or deletion were received globally. These covered 22 accounts across 8 countries out of which only 2 accounts named by the US were deleted by Apple. Interestingly, no government filed an app takedown request on suspicion of violating "App Store platform policies or relate to/contain content violating platform policies."
Under the transparency report for the US, Apple for the first time also published five National Security Letters (NSLs), reports TechCrunch. These letters are issued by the FBI and do not require a court order. They are also safeguarded from public disclosure until the agency deems it otherwise through periodic reviews after the USA Freedom Act was introduced 4 years ago. Apple received 3 - 499 such letters for 1,505 - 1,999 users, data which is to be reported in 500 band ranges by law.
Apple's latest transparency report also includes data on government requests for account preservation, financial identification and information required in emergency situations that can pose "imminent danger of death or serious physical injury". In such cases, Apple provides necessary information to authorities "in good faith" with such requests usually seeking details of customers' connections to Apple services.
The company says that for the transparency report coming next year, appeals will also be included that have been filed in response to government app takedown requests in its regional App Stores.