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Large Internet companies are improving when the government asks for data

May 1, 2013

EFF-logo-transThe Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has released its 3rd annual “Who has your back” report. Anyone that has an interest in online privacy and fourth amendment rights should take a look at this report. Here is the EFF’s description of the report:

In this annual report, the Electronic Frontier Foundation examined the policies of major Internet companies — including ISPs, email providers, 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 incentivize companies to be transparent about how data flows to the government and encourage them to take a stand for user privacy whenever it is possible to do so.

When comparing the 2013 results to the 2012 and 2011 results there is a clear trend: large internet companies are headed in the right direction. Yes there is a lot of room for improvement, but that is to be expected. Companies such as Twitter should be congratulated from their increase from 2 Stars in 2011 to 6 stars in 2013. Cloud storage companies such as Dropbox getting 5 stars is just amazing. It makes me feel better to know that any data I store with these companies will be protected from law enforcement agencies that try to bypass the fourth amendment. Being publicly recognized by this report goes a long way to incentivize these companies to do even better.

In addition this report lets people know where not to trust their data. It is clear from the lack of stars for Verizon, ATT, and Apple that mobile platforms are not to be trusted with data anyone would consider private. That means almost all of the text messages, voice mails, or internet traffic that flows through a cell phone can be shared with the government without fourth amendment protections being recognized. Hopefully the carriers will work harder on privacy concerns in the coming year.

Instead of being too disheartened by the lack of stars I will come away from the 2013 report feeling quite content. Most of the companies included in the report have made great improvements creating and following privacy policies when dealing with government requests. As long as these large companies continue this trend the best practices used in the industry will follow suit. It should make everyone feel better to know the companies they trust with private data are helping keep the government accountable to the fourth amendment rights of American citizens.


PS. The only real surprise on this list is MySpace… and not because it received 0 Stars. I am surprised to find out MySpace still exists!

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