Tech Giants Improve on Privacy &Transparency Post-Snowden

The EFF has examined the privacy policies, terms of service, public statements and courtroom track records of 26 major technology companies, including internet service providers, email providers, social networking sites and mobile services, with the goal of uncovering which companies fight the hardest to protect our privacy from government data requests.

"The sunlight brought about by a year's worth of Snowden leaks appears to have prompted dozens of companies to improve their policies when it comes to giving user data to the government," said EFF activism director Rainey Reitman, in a statement. “Our report charts objectively verifiable categories of how tech companies react when the government seeks user data, so users can make informed decisions about which companies they should trust with their information."

One of the most notable changes for the past year in the report is the fact that most major tech companies have now released transparency reports detailing the extent of government and law enforcement requests they receive and what they do with them. A full 20 of the companies EFF reviewed published transparency reports detailing government requests for user data, which is a striking increase from last year, when only seven companies in EFF's report published them.

“This is now a new standard in the tech industry: corporations are actively and voluntarily working to shed light on the government attempts to access user data,” said the report.

Also this year, the majority of the companies surveyed have made a formal commitment to inform users when their data was sought, a welcome safeguard that gives users the information they need to fight on their own.

“This shows that the technology industry is adopting a best practice pioneered by Twitter, which in 2010 fought for the right to tell its users about a government order for their information as part of the WikiLeaks investigation,” EFF noted.

EFF's report awards up to six gold stars for best practices in categories like "require a warrant for content" and "publish transparency reports." Last year, only one company surveyed earned a full six stars - Sonic, a California ISP. But this year, Apple, CREDO Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo all joined Sonic in receiving six full stars, and several others - LinkedIn, SpiderOak, Tumblr, Wickr and Wordpress - only just missed the benchmark because they did not have to bring public court battles on behalf of their users.

However, it's not all good news in this year's report. Photo-messaging application Snapchat received only one star - particularly troubling due to the sensitive nature of photos and the company's young user base.

"Snapchat joins AT&T and Comcast in failing to require a warrant for government access to the content of communications," said EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo. “That means the government can obtain extraordinarily sensitive information about your activities and communications without convincing a judge that there is probable cause to collect it.”

He added, “We urge these companies to change course and give their users this simple and needed protection from government overreach."
 

 

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