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Innovation

T-Mobile won't disclose how many government data demands it gets

The company may beat its rivals on price and bluster, but it falls behind on transparency.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on
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T-Mobile chief executive John Legere speaks at an Un-carrier event in San Francisco in September, 2014.
(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

And then there was one.

Out of the major technology companies, Amazon was until Friday the last to disclose how many demands for user data it gets from the government. Although companies are under no legal obligation to disclose figures, the retail giant had been under pressure from privacy groups to disclose them in the wake of mass surveillance leaks over the past two years.

Now, T-Mobile remains the last major phone provider to break out its numbers, which has thus far remained silent on whether or not it will follow suit with its industry partners.

But it's not expected to do so any time soon.

In an email, a T-Mobile spokesperson said a transparency report was "something we are considering," but added they "don't have a timeline on this decision right now."

That yet-to-be-made decision follows a slew of corporate moves over the past five years to open up about data demand figures.

Google was first to issue a biannual report in 2010 to detail how many subpoenas, warrants, and orders it was forced to comply with by the US government. As it rolled on year on year, other companies joined -- particularly smaller companies with a privacy edge.

But it was only in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks that other major tech companies, like Apple and Yahoo, began to roll out their own reports in an effort to counter accusations that they co-operated with government surveillance.

After suing the Justice Department, the companies later won the right to disclose how many secret national security demands they received.

Not all companies are created equally, though. Telcos and phone companies are more regulated than tech companies and have to operate under far stricter guidelines.

The telcos only began releasing transparency reports after shareholders of the two largest phone giants threatened to sue. Verizon, which was ordered to hand over its entire store of customer data on a rolling daily basis, became the first US telco to release its own report in late 2013.

AT&T following in its footsteps just weeks later.

Sprint also reported its data demand figures for the first time earlier this year. (It's worth pointing out that companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which provide phone and internet services, have also released transparency figures.)

T-Mobile has spent the past two years undoing some of the damage done to consumers by the big phone giants. But this is one thing the company should have had on the top of its list.

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