Of 18 Major Internet Companies, Who Has Your Back When The Government Comes Knocking?
Modern Survival while using technologies such as the Internet, involves concerns of privacy and transparency. Privacy in that you may expect that your internet service provider, email provider, social networking site, etc., will not willingly hand over your information, correspondences, history and files to the government or others, should they receive a request for it without legal warrant. Transparency in that if they do, that they will notify you and/or to an extent fight for your right to freely ride the road of the internet with ‘some’ freedom.
When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to companies like Google, AT&T and Facebook. But what happens when the government demands that these companies to hand over your private information? Will the company stand with you? Will it tell you that the government is looking for your data so that you can take steps to protect yourself?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org) examined the policies of 18 major Internet companies — including email providers, ISPs, cloud storage providers, and social networking sites — to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data. They looked at their terms of service, privacy policies, and published law enforcement guides, if any. They also examined their track record of fighting for user privacy in the courts and whether they’re members of the Digital Due Process coalition, which works to improve outdated communications law. Finally, they contacted each of the companies with their conclusions and gave them an opportunity to respond and provide evidence of improved policies and practices. These categories are not the only ways that a company can stand up for users, of course, but they are important and publicly verifiable.
The evaluations used the following criteria:
A public commitment to inform users when their data is sought by the government.
Transparency about when and how often companies hand data to the government.
Fight for users’ privacy rights in the courts.
Fight for users’ privacy in Congress.
EFF was especially pleased to recognize the first company to ever receive a full gold star in each of the categories measured by the privacy and transparency report: Sonic.net, an ISP based in Santa Rosa, California.
While they were extremely impressed by the strides some of these companies have made since last year, they say there’s plenty of room for improvement. They are hopeful that next year they will see more protections for users from location services providers like Loopt and Foursquare, since location information is so sensitive and increasingly sought by the government.
In addition, Amazon is entrusted with huge quantities of information as part of its cloud computing services and retail operations, yet does not produce annual transparency reports, publish a law enforcement guide, or promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government.
EFF was pleased that Comcast and Yahoo stood up for user privacy in courts, but neither company has hit any of the other criteria for earning recognition in other categories.
AT&T, Microsoft, and Apple are members of the Digital Due Process coalition, but don’t observe any of the other best practices they (EFF) are measuring.
And this year, as last, Verizon and MySpace earned no stars in the report.
The overall poor showing of AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, who provide Internet connectivity to so many people, is especially troubling.
Rank (higher number is ‘better’)
|sonic.net||4||Internet Service Provider|
|Dropbox||3||Cloud storage provider|
|3||Search Engine, email provider|
|SpiderOak||2.5||Cloud storage provider|
|amazon||2||e-commerce, Cloud services|
|Apple||1||e-products, Internet Service Provider|
|at&t||1||Internet Service Provider|
|comcast||1||Internet Service Provider|
|loopt||1||Location based services, Social networking|
|Microsoft||1||…it’s Microsoft, a bit of everything here|
|Yahoo||1||Search Engine, email provider|
|foursquare||0||Location based services, Social networking|
|verizon||0||Internet Service Provider|
Not to burst your bubble, but, the NSA is building an enormous spy center in Utah, which may negate all this anyway… There is little doubt that they (NSA) are already sifting through emails and other online activities to some extent. It still helps to know where some of the major internet companies stand on the general issue of government intrusion on the internet.