The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) constantly fights for our right to privacy on the Internet. It’s an organization every single person who values privacy ought to support financially, as they are continually beating back Leviathan when it comes to issues of personal privacy online.
In this fourth-annual report, EFF examines the publicly-available policies of major Internet companies—including Internet service providers, email providers, mobile communications tools, telecommunications companies, cloud storage providers, location-based services, blogging platforms, and social networking sites—to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data. The purpose of this report is to allow users to make informed decisions about the companies with whom they do business.
Their report titled “Who Has Your Back” (download PDF version) is a detailed investigation of which companies actively fight for your right to privacy and which companies don’t. They evaluated companies based on six criteria:
1. Require a warrant for content of communications.
2. Tell users about government data requests.
3. Publish transparency reports.
4. Publish law enforcement guidelines.
5. Fight for users’ privacy rights in courts.
6. Publicly oppose mass surveillance.
It’s a valuable report for you if you’re looking to vote with your dollars, something I highly recommend you do, and support only those companies who will support you, their customer.
These questions are even more important in the wake of the past year’s revelations about mass surveillance, which showcase how the United States government has been taking advantage of the rich trove of data we entrust to technology companies to engage in surveillance of millions of innocent people in the US and around the world. Internal NSA documents and public statements by government officials confirm that major telecommunications companies are an integral part of these programs. We are also faced with unanswered questions, conflicting statements, and troubling leaked documents which raise real questions about the government’s ability to access to the information we entrust to social networking sites and webmail providers.
There were some surprises on the list for me, as I was not aware of the pro-privacy stance of some of the companies listed. Others, like Twitter, Google and Microsoft, are companies I’ve written about repeatedly when their refusal to give up private information takes them to court at their own expense. That’s the true test of a company’s commitment to privacy really, isn’t it? Do they merely pay lip service to the notion or will they back it up with cold hard cash.
I was appalled but not surprised that both AT&T and ComCast routinely give up personal information without a warrant and pleased to see Amazon.com, Apple and Dropbox (among many others) all required a warrant first. All three of these companies also back up their belief in privacy with their own cash when they fight the government in court.
That’s a good thing.
The next largest single factor in the privacy battle is whether the company you deal with will tell you if the government is after your personal information. A shocking number of companies will not tell you this, including both the aforementioned AT&T and ComCast. For me, the fact ComCast “fights for users’ rights in court” is meaningless since they don’t require a warrant and won’t tell me if some government goon is after my personal information. But that’s just me, and I don’t use ComCast. Or AT&T.
We are pleased to announce that nine companies earned stars in every category: Apple, CREDO Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic, Twitter, and Yahoo. In addition, six companies earned stars in all categories except a court battle: LinkedIn, Pinterest, SpiderOak, Tumblr, Wickr, and WordPress. We are extremely pleased to recognize the outstanding commitment each of these companies has made to their users.