Who’s got your back?
The U.S. government likes its secret projects—just check out these examples. The latest ongoing effort is tracking the online behavior of its citizens. In 2016, government agencies sent at least 49,868 requests to Facebook for user data. In the same time period, they sent 27,850 requests to Google and 9,076 to Apple, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (the EFF), a major nonprofit organization that champions civil liberties in the digital world by, among other things, advising the public on matters of internet privacy. For the past seven years, the EFF has published an annual “Who Has Your Back” report that rates the tech companies with whom you probably interact online as how and how well their corporate policies protect your personal information from the government’s prying eyes.
This year, the EFF evaluated the public policies at 26 such companies, awarding them stars (or not) in the following five categories:
- Following of industry-wide best practices (for example, publishing their corporate policies on how they handle government requests for data)
- Notifying users of government requests for access to private info
- Corporate commitment to not “sell out” users to the government
- Corporate policy on standing up to National Security Letter (NSL) gag orders—these forbid companies who have received a demand for data from the government to reveal the existence of such demand.
- Stated support of legal reform aimed at decreasing the collection of information on individuals
Overall, the alarming results indicate that the tech industry, as a whole, has a long way to go before users can feel secure about their personal information. “We expect companies to protect, not exploit, the data we have entrusted them with, but companies are failing to push back against government overreaching,” summarizes EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo.
The all-stars of the bunch
Nine companies earned stars in every category this year:
Highlights among these nine companies include the fact that Credo and Sonic both earned stars for standing up for transparency and user privacy in every category for every year of the past seven years. The other seven companies—Adobe, Dropbox, Pinterest, Wickr, and WordPress—have improved their policies over the years, which is significant in and of itself.
Check this story out if you’re curious about just how powerful a single message on the Internet can be.