Personal Data: Who Has Your Back?

By: byron alcantara

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published its fourth annual “Who Has Your Back?” report. You might be surprised about which companies have your back and which companies don’t. The report looks at the policies and practices of various technology companies and gives companies stars for certain items that address security concerns of consumers.  Stars are given out if companies “require a warrant for content,” “tell users about government data requests,” “fight for users’ privacy rights in courts,” etc. A maximum of six stars can be obtained by each company.

Some of the top technology companies received gold stars across the board for protecting your data. Google, Apple, and Twitter all have your back and will fight for your privacy rights both in the courts and in Congress.  EFF was pleased to find out that many companies, rocked by high-profile disclosures of the National Surveillance Agency (NSA) spying on online accounts, responded by increasing their commitment to transparency and pushed back against mass surveillance.

The companies with the lowest amount of stars included Snapchat, Amazon, and AT&T. Snapchat was ranked least likely to have your back protecting your personal data. It does not require a warrant for content, does not promise to tell users if their data is sought by the government, and does not publicly oppose mass surveillance.

Amazon.com received credit for requiring a warrant for content. According to the EFF report, Amazon receives credit because of testimony from its Vice President for Global Public Policy, Paul Misener, before the House Judiciary Committee in 2010: “With respect to the content of electronic communications, we believe that ECPA requires law enforcement authorities to obtain a search warrant to compel disclosure. We do not release information without valid process and have not disclosed content without a search warrant.”

Although, Amazon.com’s stance is to obtain a warrant it does not promise users that it will tell them if the government demands data. The company has also never published a transparency report showing government requests for data, does not publish its guidelines for law enforcement seeking access to data, and it has not publicly opposed mass surveillance through a written statement.

Some companies have shown improvement over the past four years including Verizon (earned 4 stars), Microsoft (earned 6 stars), and Tumblr (earned 5 stars). Protecting personal data is extremely important to consumers and it is apparent that it is increasingly important to companies.