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We give technology companies access to a trove of personal information when we use their services, including:
- Smartphone apps
- Computer software
- Social media networks
- Telecommunications services
For example, internet service providers generally know — if not keep logs of — every website you visit. Similarly, many email providers and social media networks might be logging every action you take while on their websites. And downloading an app often entails giving it permission to access various parts of your phone, like your photos or contacts.
If you’ve ever wondered how closely tech companies guard the data they have on you, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has some answers. You might not want to hear them, though.
The nonprofit organization recently released its seventh annual “Who Has Your Back?” report. It evaluates major tech companies’ policies and practices regarding handing over data to the government.
“In this era of unprecedented digital surveillance and widespread political upheaval, the data stored on our cell phones, laptops, and especially our online services are a magnet for government actors seeking to track citizens, journalists, and activists. … where users see new ways to communicate and store data, law enforcement agents see new avenues for surveillance.”
Last year, the U.S. government sent Facebook at least 49,000 requests for user data. The same year, it also sent Google more than 27,000 such requests and sent Apple more than 9,000 requests.
For its report, EFF evaluated and rated 26 companies like these based on their user protections.
For example, EFF looked at whether each company has a public, published policy that requires the government to obtain a warrant from a judge before the company hands over user communications to the government. All of the companies EFF analyzed met that standard. EFF also looked at whether companies promise to inform users when the U.S. government seeks their data, and to do so before the company turns over any data.
EFF looked at whether companies have a public policy ensuring that data does not end up in the government’s hands by other means, such as because a company allowed a third-party vendor to sell user data to the government.
Of the 26 companies rated for the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2017 “Who Has Your Back?” report, four companies earned ratings of only one out of five possible stars. They are all major telecom corporations:
EFF describes telecom companies like these four as “failing to live up to larger tech industry practices.” It continues:
“When it comes to adopting policies that prioritize user privacy over facilitating government data demands, the telecom industry for the most part has erred on the side of prioritizing government requests.”
Two other companies earned only two stars: e-commerce giant Amazon.com and the instant-messaging service WhatsApp.
At the other end of the spectrum, nine of the 26 companies rated by EFF earned five-star ratings. They are:
- Adobe Systems (software company)
- Credo (wireless telecom company)
- Dropbox (cloud storage company)
- Lyft (ride-hailing company)
- Pinterest (social media company)
- Sonic (internet and phone service provider)
- Uber (ride-hailing company)
- Wickr (software company)
- WordPress (content publishing platform)
To learn about safeguarding your privacy online, check out:
- “Protect Your Data — Critical Things to Know About Public and Hotel Wi-Fi“
- “How to Shield Your Online Privacy From Harvesting by ISPs, Advertisers“
- “New ‘Snoop-Free’ Email Promises Greater Privacy“
What’s your take on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s ratings? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.