You may not be aware of this, but: We are officially in the middle of Privacy Awareness Week, according to the FTC. To mark it, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published its annual “Who Has Your Back?” report, which details how major Internet companies share data with the government.
Seeking a company that will stand up to Uncle Sam? Look at Twitter and Sonic.net. Worried about service providers who’ll rat you out behind your back? Best avoid MySpace and Verizon, then.
Those are the broad conclusions of the 2013 report, which grades 18 ISPs, social networks, cloud storage vendors, and email providers on how they treat our data when Johnny Law comes pounding on the door.
Only Twitter and Sonic.net earn perfect scores on the EFF’s six criteria. Verizon and MySpace also got perfect scores – they went 0 for 6. Everyone else landed somewhere in between.
The EFF scores largely rate how transparent these companies are about their data sharing practices. They’re less about how successful they are at keeping the feds out of our business. For example:
Do these companies publish the guidelines they use to determine what kinds of user data they share with law enforcement and under what circumstances? Facebook and Foursquare are among the dozen who do; Apple, AT&T, and Yahoo do not.
Do they require a warrant before handing over your data? Google, Dropbox, and nine other companies do; Comcast and Verizon are among those that don’t.
Do they fight for user privacy rights both in court and in congress? Only four companies meet both of those criteria: Amazon, Google, Sonic.net, and Twitter.
Do they support Digital Due Process – ie, reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require warrants for sensitive data? Comcast, Verizon, MySpace, and Yahoo are all MIA.
In its report [PDF] the EFF holds a few giants’ feet to the fire, in particular huge ISPs like AT&T and Verizon, as well as Amazon, Facebook, and Yahoo:
Amazon holds huge quantities of information as part of its cloud computing services and retail operations, yet does not promise to inform users when their data is sought by the government, produce annual transparency reports, or publish a law enforcement guide. Facebook has yet to publish a transparency report. Yahoo! has a public record of standing up for user privacy in courts, but it hasn’t earned recognition in any of our other categories.
And though Google’s score has slipped slightly, due in part to changes in how the EFF rates companies, it earns kudos for challenging a National Security Letter in the courts – an extremely rare event in any field.
Overall, scores for companies are improving, according to the report. Google, LinkedIn, Dropbox and Spider Oak all earn five stars, while companies like WordPress, Tumblr, and Foursquare all earned their first stars this year.
But I suspect the reason behind the higher scores may be less cheery. Governments worldwide have wised up to these companies as sources of information about alleged criminals (or dissidents, or anyone else on their radar) and are stepping up their attempts to claim that data for their own.
Companies that didn’t used to worry about producing guidelines for when the feds come calling, now do. Cloud storage providers have woken up to the fact that they are a big fat juicy target for government agents with an insatiable appetite for data and minimal limits on what they can obtain.
That’s something to keep in mind as we ‘celebrate’ Privacy Awareness Week. These days that really should be every week.
This post originally appeared on Infoworld.