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Morning Business Briefing

Apple joins Facebook, Microsoft, reveals thousands of U.S. demands for customer data Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, June 17, 2013.

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Tech giants release details
Apple Inc. today joined other technology giants in disclosing details of government requests for customer data, pledging to try to “strike the right balance” between privacy and legal requests.

Apple’s disclosure follows similar moves by Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. over the past few days, as controversy mounts over a U.S. government snooping program known as Prism.

Apple received between 4,000 and 5,000 requests from U.S. agencies over the past six months, the company said in a statement posted on its website.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices were targeted by federal, state and municipal agencies, involving criminal and national security issues.

“The most common form of request comes from policy investigating robberies and other crimes, searching for missing children, trying to locate a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, or hoping to prevent a suicide,” Apple said.

“Regardless of the circumstances, our legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities," it added in the statement.

“In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we refuse to fulfill it.”

Prism is a program run by the NSA aimed at scouring information from foreigners via e-mail, online chats, pictures, video conferencing and social networking. Companies caught up in the program include not only Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, but Yahoo Inc., YouTube, Skype and others.

Apple says it learned of the National Security Agency’s Prism program only when details were published by media organizations.

“We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order,” it said, adding that it joined other companies for asking permission to disclose some details.

“Apple has always placed a priority on protecting our customers’ personal data, and we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place,” it said.

“There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it. For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”

Over the past few days, Microsoft disclosed that it received 6,000 to 7,000 demands in the second half of last year, while Facebook got 9,000 to 10,000.

Google has not yet disclosed the number of demands the Internet search giant received.

These requests run the gamut – from things like a local sheriff trying to find a missing child, to a federal marshal tracking a fugitive, to a police department investigating an assault, to a national security official investigating a terrorist threat,” said Facebook general counsel Ted Ullyot.

The 9,000 to 10,000 requests involved between 18,000 and 19,000 user accounts, he added.

“With more than 1.1 billion monthly active users worldwide, this means that a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of our user accounts were the subject of any kind of U.S. state, local, or federal U.S. government request (including criminal and national security-related requests) in the past six months,” Mr. Ullyot said.

“We hope this helps put into perspective the numbers involved, and lays to rest some of the hyperbolic and false assertions in some recent press accounts about the frequency and scope of the data requests that we receive.”

Yesterday, the U.S. intelligence agencies said in a report that their phone snooping meant checking less than 300 phone accounts, adding they had been able to thwart dozens of terrorist plots.

Markets climb
Global markets are rising this morning as investors await signals from the Federal Reserve later this week.

Markets are watching for signs of when the U.S. central bank will begin to pull back from its extraordinary stimulus program known as quantitative easing.

Investors have been on edge, not wanting the level of the program to ease before its time.

“The huge rally in equity markets since March 2009 may well reflect the lack of discipline and exit-planning from the U.S. Federal Reserve in response to the financial crisis, so it’s little wonder that equity markets have been behaving akin to a petulant teenager since the ascension of quantitative easing tapering last month,” said senior market strategist Brenda Kelly of IG in London.

Tokyo’s Nikkei climbed 2.7 per cent, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng 1.2 per cent.

In Europe, London’s FTSE 100, Germany’s DAX and the Paris CAC 40 were up by between 0.6 per cent and 1.5 per cent by about 9 a.m. ET.

Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 futures also rose.

Home prices rise
Canadian home sales slipped again in May from a year earlier, but prices continued to rise, according to a new reading today.

Home sales dipped 2.6 per cent from May of 2012, the Canadian Real Estate Association said, though climbed 3.6 per cent from April of this year.

That month-to-month increase was the best gain in almost two and one-half years, the group said.

According to the MLS home price index, prices rose 2.3 per cent, The Globe and Mail's Tara Perkins reports.

“Until recently, mixed sales trends across the country taken together had resulted consistently in a stable national trend,” said Gregory Klump, the group's chief economist.

“The difference in May was that sales improved in so many markets at the same time," he said in the CREA report.

“The pop in Canada’s resale housing numbers adds one more to a series of upbeat economic indicators that exceeded expectations in recent weeks. It’s important not to put too much stock in one month’s worth of data, but taken together with other recently published economic gauges, Canadian resale housing market results provide further evidence of the widely anticipated firming trend for Canadian economy.”

The group also revised its forecast for the housing market this year and next, based on recent improving data.

It now projects sales of 443,400 this year and 464,300 next.

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