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Digital rights group lists best companies for data protection

Archana Venkatraman

Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, Yahoo and Twitter fight the hardest to protect users’ privacy from government data requests, while Amazon, AT&T, Adobe and Comcast are more willing to abide by them.

The fourth annual report Who Has Your Back from Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the nonprofit organisation defending civil liberties in the digital world, assessed 26 companies' commitments to fighting unfair demands for customer data.

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It gave IT giants Apple, CREDO Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Sonic, and Twitter six gold stars for data privacy. Other prominent technology giants, such as Amazon and AT&T, fared the poorest, receiving just two stars.

EFF's report awards up to six stars for best practices in categories such as "require a warrant for content" and "publish transparency reports". Last year, just two companies earned full six stars: Sonic, a California ISP, and Twitter.

But this year, seven others, including Google, Microsoft and Apple, earned full stars.

The report examined the privacy policies, terms of service, public statements and courtroom track records of major IT companies providing cloud, ISP, mobile and social media services.

"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.

But the biggest public cloud provider Amazon failed in data protection criteria, including telling users about government’s data requests, publishing transparency reports, publishing law enforcement guidelines and fighting for users’ privacy rights in congress.

Other big players such as AT&T and Comcast fail to require a warrant for government access to the content of communications. “That means the government can obtain extraordinarily sensitive information about users’ activities and communications without convincing a judge that there is probable cause to collect it," warned EFF staff attorney Nate Cardozo.

"We urge these companies to change course and give users this simple and needed protection from government overreach," Cardozo said.

The report awards up to six gold stars for best practices in categories such as "require a warrant for content" and "publish transparency reports."

Other prominent companies, such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Wordpress, also missed getting the full star rating because they did not have to bring public court battles on behalf of their users.

According to EEF, many IT giants have made a formal commitment to inform users when government sought their data. This is a “welcome safeguard” it said. 

Twitter led the data transparency charts in 2012 when it fought for the right to tell its users about a government order for their information as part of the WikiLeaks investigation.

Separately, Google revealed this year that requests by governments for users' information have increased by 120% since 2009.

“Though our number of users has grown throughout the time period, we’re also seeing more and more governments start to exercise their authority to make requests,” Richard Salgado, Google’s legal director of law enforcement and information security wrote in a blog post.

At that time, Salgado said Google is working with eight other companies to push for surveillance reform, including more transparency.

Meanwhile, Microsoft, which received full six stars, is fighting a search warrant ordering it to give a US District Court access to the contents of one of its customer’s emails stored on a server located in Dublin.

See who has your back when it comes to data privacy here.


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