In these days of Big Data plus a plethora of issues, concerns and legislation regarding government access to technology users’ data, plus a reported push to wiretap the Internet, this year’s Electronic Frontier Foundation report called “Who Has Your Back?” might be more important than ever. It takes a look at 18 companies that have or store our electronic data and awarded them gold stars based on how easily they gave up user data to the government.
Some highlights (and lowlights):
• Only Twitter and Internet service provider Sonic.net, which is based in Santa Rosa, scored all six gold stars. This means they require a warrant for content (a new category this year); tell users about government data requests; publish transparency reports; publish law-enforcement guidelines; fight for users’ privacy rights in courts; and fight for users’ privacy rights in Congress.
• Apple and Yahoo got only one star each. The Cupertino-based keeper of your data in the iCloud received the star for fighting for users’ privacy rights in Congress, while the Sunnyvale company that has your email, photo, search and other data earned the star for fighting for users’ privacy rights in courts.
• Google — which among many other things knows users’ search, email, mobile, photo and video moves — got 5 out of 6 stars, because San Francisco-based EFF said in its report that this year, “we were disappointed to see Google’s statement introduce a new ambiguity.” Google policy states: “We notify users about legal demands when appropriate, unless prohibited by law or court order.” The EFF says “when appropriate” is open-ended and not a strong enough commitment toward transparency.
• Let’s talk social: Facebook, keeper of our Likes and all kinds of data some of us might want to forget, got three stars. The world’s biggest social network does not tell users about government data requests, publish a transparency report or fight for users’ privacy rights in court. Professional networking site LinkedIn fared better with five stars. The only star it failed to get was the one for fighting for users’ rights in court. Blogging platforms Tumblr and WordPress and location service Foursquare got three, four and four stars, respectively.
• Heading over to Washington state, tech giants Microsoft and Amazon got four and two stars, respectively. Amazon, which knows what its customers buy, read, watch and listen to, scored stars for fighting for privacy rights in courts and in Congress. Microsoft, which among other things now owns messaging service Skype, did not earn stars for telling users about government requests or fighting for users’ privacy rights in court.
• As for the big three U.S. ISPs and/or wireless service providers, only Comcast got two stars. AT&T got one, and Verizon had none.
Image from EFF