Some of the most voracious consumer-data harvesters also are the most dedicated to protecting information from arguably overreaching government requests, according to a new report. Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yahoo all got high scores from Electronic Frontier Foundation in the digital privacy group's fourth-annual report assessing data privacy practices of tech companies.
Notably, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo garnered EFF's full stamp of approval, after falling short of meeting all the organization's criteria in previous years. For its "Who Has Your Back? 2014: Protecting Your Data From Government Requests" report, EFF evaluated privacy policies and data transparency reports from 26 technology and digital media firms.
The organization suggested that changes to privacy practices came about as a response to ongoing scrutiny of tech companies and their reported involvement with the National Security Agency's surveillance efforts.
"Tech companies have had to work to regain the trust of users concerned that the U.S. government was accessing data they stored in the cloud. This seems to be one of the legacies of the Snowden disclosures: the new transparency around mass surveillance has prompted significant policy reforms by major tech companies," said the organization in its report.
EFF based its ratings on a set of six criteria:
Warrant: Does the company require a warrant before divulging content of email or other communications to government entities?
Notice: Does the company promise to notify consumers when government or law enforcement requests their data?
Transparency: Does the company publish reports on the number of government data requests it receives and whether they are unofficial requests or involve a warrant?
Law Enforcement: Are law enforcement guidelines made public?
Courtroom Battles: Do companies take fights over data requests by government to court to protect their customers' data?
Congressional Battles: Do companies take fights over data requests by government to congress or defend consumer data protections before congress?
EFF has been a vocal critic of the National Security Agency's surveillance and data collection practices, including the PRISM program which involved gathering data about users of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others.
EFF determined its ratings based on publicly available information on each firm's privacy practices. "As part of our evaluation, we contacted each company to explain our findings and to give them an opportunity to provide evidence of improving policies and practices," said the organization.
Last year, Yahoo, Google and Microsoft launched a crusade to ensure the public knows they don't succumb to every demand from the government for consumer data by the NSA. In the wake of the agency's PRISM program scandal, they each formally petitioned for the ability to reveal more information about government data requests.
Amazon, AT&T, MySpace and Verizon got just two stars each. For instance, while Amazon has fought on behalf of its customers in court, the company does not tell them when government entities request their data, according to EFF. The group gave messaging app Snapchat a poor rating also, awarding it just one star for publishing its law enforcement guidelines.
"[Snapchat] does not keep pace with industry competitors when it comes to transparency around data requests, giving users notice when their data is sought by the government, or requiring a warrant for user content," stated the EFF report.