The concept of Internet privacy is an increasingly dicey one, as it becomes clearer that we are constantly under electronic surveillance – both legal and illegal, accidental and purposeful. To this end, the Electronic Frontier Foundation launched an annual report that looks into the policies of major Internet companies, from email providers, social media companies, and cloud storage services all the way through to ISPs, to find out, as the report is titled, “Who Has Your Back?“
This year’s report covers 18 companies, with big names like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Each company are ranked on a star system based on six different categories relating to whether the company “protect[s] your data from the government.” Those categories are “Requires a warrant for content,” “Tells users about government data requests,” “Publishes transparency reports,” “Publishes law enforcement guidelines,” “Fights for users’ privacy rights in courts” and “Fights for users’ privacy rights in Congress.”
Only two companies managed full marks in the report this year; both ISP Sonic.net and Twitter met every single criteria the EFF laid out for privacy protection, with the organization noting that it is “extremely pleased to recognize the outstanding commitment each of these companies has made to public transparency around government access to user data.”
That same couldn’t be said for everyone else – in fact, one company managed no stars whatsoever in the report. Verizon somehow missed the mark on every single one of the EFF’s requirements for privacy protection. Three other companies received just one star: Apple and AT&T only fought for users’ privacy in Congress, which Yahoo didn’t; However, Yahoo did fight for those rights in court.
Specific companies were called out for changes the EFF hopes to see sooner rather than later. “Amazon holds huge quantities of information as part of its cloud computing services and retail operations, yet does not promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government, produce annual transparency reports, or publish a law enforcement guide,” the report explains, adding “Facebook has yet to publish a transparency report. Yahoo has a public record of standing up for user privacy in courts, but it hasn’t earned recognition in any of our other categories. Apple and AT&T are members of the Digital Due Process coalition, but don’t observe any of the other best practices we’re measuring.”
Overall, the state of the privacy union may not be very strong, but it is certainly improving. “Readers of this year’s annual privacy and transparency report should be heartened, as we are, by the improvements major online service providers made over the last year,” the EFF wrote in conclusion, adding that “we are seeing a growing, powerful movement that comprises civil liberties groups as well as major online service providers to clarify outdated privacy laws so that there is no question government agents need a court-ordered warrant before accessing sensitive location data, email content, and documents stored in the cloud.”