It’s Privacy Awareness Week! Hooray!! I know, who cares? But because it is, a report from the privacy watchdogs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation is worth a look. The EFF’s report, appropriately named “Who Has Your Back?” looks at 18 major Internet-related companies and rates them on how they deal with requests for information about you from Uncle Sam.
Interestingly, one of the two companies doing the very best job of keeping your information to themselves is a rather small ISP, Sonic.net of Santa Rosa, California, coincidentally my very own ISP. Sonic.net and Twitter rated six stars, the only companies evaluated by the EFF to earn the highest possible score.
Who are the blabbermouths who could care less about your privacy when the snoops come knocking? Well, there’s a bunch, but the very worst are Verizon and Myspace, the only companies not awarded a single star. The hall of shame also included Apple, AT&T and Yahoo!, each earning a paltry single star.
The EFF didn’t just pull these ratings out of the air. The companies were evaluated using six criteria, which is why six stars is the best any could earn. They are:
Require a warrant for content of communications. In this new category, companies earn recognition if they require the government to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before they will hand over the content of user communications.
Tell users about government data requests. To earn a star in this category, Internet companies must promise to tell users when the government seeks their data unless prohibited by law. This gives users a chance to defend themselves against overreaching government demands for their data.
Publish transparency reports. We award companies a star in this category if they publish statistics on how often they provide user data to the government. Google, a runner up with five stars, really stands out in this category.
Publish law enforcement guidelines. Companies get a star in this category if they make public policies or guidelines they have explaining how they respond to data demands from the government, such as guides for law enforcement.
Fight for users’ privacy rights in courts. To earn recognition in this category, companies must have a public record of resisting overbroad government demands for access to user content in court.1
Fight for users’ privacy in Congress. Internet companies earn a star in this category if they support efforts to modernize electronic privacy laws to defend users in the digital age by joining the Digital Due Process Coalition.
It’s worth noting, though, that some companies that score well in these areas have privacy shortcomings outside the scope of this survey. DropBox, for instance, was awarded five stars by the EFF, but has had some significant data leaks.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.