Transparency Reporting

Why Release a Transparency Report?

Creating and releasing transparency reports help your company in many ways. Simply generating the data behind a transparency report is an important first step, since simply logging the decisions that the report will reflect encourages those decisions to be made consciously and thoughtfully. And examining that data can help determine whether your practices, policies and principles are truly aligned with your users’ interests. Publishing the data demonstrates your commitment to transparency and brings your company into broader conversations about appropriate limits on government authority or balances between safe spaces and free speech.

"Since Google launched the first Transparency Report in 2010, we’ve been sharing data that sheds light on how the policies and actions of governments and corporations affect privacy, security, and access to information online."

Google Transparency Report

"Our mission is to provide free access to the sum of all human knowledge. We believe that protecting user privacy and defending against censorship are essential to the success of that mission. Every year, we receive requests from governments, individuals, and organizations to disclose information about users or to delete or alter content on our projects. Some are legitimate. Some are not. 
The purpose of this transparency report is to shed light on the requests we receive and how we respond to them."

Wikimedia Transparency Report

"An essential part of earning the trust of our customers is being transparent about the requests we receive from law enforcement and other governmental entities. To this end, Cloudflare publishes this semi-annual Transparency Report on the governmental requests we have received to disclose information about our customers."

Cloudflare Transparency Report

The following questions and resources will help you build a transparency report that is good for users and your business too.

What Should You Have in Your Transparency Report?

Depending on the nature of your product or service, some or all of the following might be appropriate topics for your transparency report:

  • Information Requests (e.g. search warrants)
  • Legal Takedowns (e.g. DMCA takedown orders)
  • Terms of Service Enforcement (e.g. takedowns or account bans)
  • Voluntary Data Sharing

But building a trust-based relationship with users means going beyond external demands and revealing details about decisions that are driven by other pressures than legal demands as well.

How Much Detail Should You Share?

For well-established topics, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Modeling your report after templates such as the Open Technology Institute’s Transparency Reporting Toolkit or existing reports both simplifies the process of designing your own report and makes it easier to join the conversation and identify trends and outliers.
Beyond that, however, the more granular the data you expose, the more informative the report will be. For example, breaking down government demands by state or even county can bring a great deal of useful information into the question of whether local governments are properly using their authority to demand information. More detailed reports also make the information more personal and relevant to your users, increasing their ability to relate the report to their own lives. 

How Often Should You Release A Report?

Integrating transparency data collection into your internal processes serves multiple purposes. For one thing, it is far more efficient than trying to go back and round up or recreate data from incidents that happened months ago. It also helps you keep in mind one of the benefits of transparency reporting: the influence it can have on your own practices. Your compliance department is more likely to consider whether a warrant is overbroad or ensure that the target of a takedown is properly notified if they have to actively enter those records into a transparency database.

What Display Will Be Most Helpful for Your Users?

You have your own design ethos, and that’s great. Communicating to your users in your own voice, and focusing on the issues that you believe they will find most compelling, can be a powerful way to educate them. 
But don’t discount the value of raw data. Whether granular data makes sense as part of your formal transparency report or available as a separate file is up to you. Not every user will download a file full of information about government takedowns, but researchers and advocates may find that invaluable in their efforts to strengthen privacy laws and further protect your users.

Who Is It For? (Everyone!)

Finally, remember that you have many audiences for your report, both internal and external. Your report can help you identify potential concerns with your policies or practices and move to address them. It can help develop allies and encourage working in coalition to protect users rights. And it can bring those users closer by helping them understand what happens beyond the curtain. The more robust your transparency report, the more uses it will find.
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