It’s no secret these days that the balance of privacy and security has become a major issue in today’s America. We banter back and forth about how our data is collected, who has access to our personal information, who’s tracking us in real-time or after the fact, and how that resulting data is used. We argue over to what extent government or business should be able to monitor private citizens, either for reasons of security, or to enhance markets. Lawyers for both sides craft high-sounding legalese statements about what’s considered fair and ethical.
In that context, the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF, a group dedicated to protecting privacy rights, has issued the 2015 edition of their yearly report “Who Has Your Back” – showing what companies are fighting and contesting government requests for customer data. EFF’s contribution to online rights and privacy is recognizable to say the least.
This yearly report has allowed the public to hold large enterprises accountable for how they handle user and consumer data. We could not thank them enough for this report and will continually support their efforts.
The results are telling to consumers who really want to know where their privacy is most vulnerable, and what company executives are thinking about the role of government data collection.
Some two dozen companies are included in the study, where company practices are measured across five different content areas. In the first one, “follows industry-accepted best practices,” a whole wide range of companies from Apple to Dropbox to Verizon and Yahoo are all listed as compliant, with one single provider, WhatsApp, not getting a gold star.
The next criterion is more interesting — here, EFF breaks down what companies tell users about requests for data by the government. Adobe, Apple and Facebook got gold stars– AT&T and Comcast did not. Lincoln, Microsoft, and LinkedIn also get gold stars, as well as Wikimedia and Yahoo, while Verizon and Google were missed.
The next standard focuses on disclosure of data retention. Here again, Adobe and Apple rate gold stars, and Comcast does, too. Facebook and a few smaller providers meet EFF’s criteria here, as well as WordPress and Yahoo.
There’s also the disclosure of content removal requests by the government. The majority of providers are EFF compliant in this area, with a few ratings of “not applicable” where that’s really not part of the company’s service model.
The last criteria point is a representation of the company’s views on public policy that shows how companies stand on whether they oppose data backdoors.
Almost all providers get gold stars here, with the exclusion of AT&T and Verizon. What this tells viewers at a glance is that that the voice telecom carriers have a different set of policy standpoints than other providers in more data-oriented parts of the industry. It’s also a kind of bellwether to show how public opinion is moving and how corporate policies are moving with it. Overall, although companies make their choices in the context of the market, public opinion does have influence.
This year’s report represents the fifth annual edition of this survey that provides a unique angle on how privacy is being treated in the public and private sectors. Overall, EFF is revealing that advances in privacy practices are taking place in the industry, citing items like Amazon’s first transparency report recently. However, staffers say many companies do have a long way to go on disclosure and how the government intrudes into people’s lives.
Public reviews like this enhance our knowledge about what’s happening around us, and how public citizens build their cases to challenge public sector and private sector practices that are often less than transparent. That’s part of a greater service to advocacy groups do for Americans as we continue to struggle with questions about the privacy of our data.
(image attribution eff.org – report)