Google, Twitter and Facebook will have to hand over the data they hold on users to the US government for at least six months to avoid fines, in a move that could have the biggest impact on their privacy policies in the US.
The three internet giants are facing mounting pressure from Congress and the White House to hand the data over, after a federal judge ruled last year that the tech giants could not legally retain user data without a court order.
Google, Twitter, and Facebook were not immediately available for comment on the latest ruling.
The companies’ refusal to hand their data to the government, which would be a major setback for their privacy practices, is the latest in a string of legal challenges to their privacy products.
The companies are being sued by people who say they have suffered privacy breaches as a result of their online advertising and data collection practices.
“We believe this is the right thing to do for our users and our businesses, and we will take every legal and administrative action necessary to comply,” the companies wrote in a statement.
While Google is not required to hand data over by law, the US Justice Department has threatened to sue Google over the issue.
Last year, Google was ordered by a federal court in California to hand its data over to the FBI and to provide an account number for users.
The order was later overturned by a lower court, though the company was ordered to hand it over again by a different federal judge.
If the government does request Google’s data, it will have 30 days to respond and provide it.
Google, which operates in more than 160 countries and accounts for around one-third of the world’s internet traffic, said it would give the government access to the information by the end of June.
“The data you provide will be used only to comply with law and to protect our users’ privacy and safety,” Google wrote.
“The data we provide will not be shared with third parties, including law enforcement, and will only be shared in response to an order from a court.”
The US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook is currently being sued in US courts by a former employee who alleges that she was sexually harassed by the company and the founder of the social network.