Whatever you think of Edward Snowden and his revelations about the National Security Agency’s alleged monitoring of the Internet, one thing is beyond debate: His disclosures have ignited a global conversation about privacy in the online age. And a new report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests that he spurred the tech industry to take newly aggressive measures to defend their users against inappropriate government intrusions.
“Who Has Your Back?” rates 26 U.S.-based tech companies on six factors:
- Whether they require a warrant before they’ll release user content;
- Whether they inform users of government data requests;
- Whether they publish transparency reports;
- Whether they publish law enforcement guidelines;
- Whether they fight for users’ privacy rights in court;
- Whether they fight for users’ privacy rights before Congress.
A company which the EFF concluded did all of the above would get a six-star rating. Eight companies achieved that, including giants such as Apple. Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. They outnumbered the laggards, such as Amazon and AT&T (two stars apiece) and Snapchat (one star).
The EFF has been publishing this report since 2011, and this is the first year that reading it might leave you feeling guardedly upbeat rather than depressed. Last year, for instance, regional ISP Sonic.net and Twitter were the only companies to get perfect six-star ratings, and Apple and Yahoo only got one star apiece. In 2012, the report involved a simpler rating, and only Sonic.net got all four stars. And in 2011, no company got four stars and only Google managed not to look dismal.
The EFF’s analysis of its data notes the turnaround and credits Snowden for nudging the industry in the right direction:
There’s still plenty of fodder for concern in the report. Why, for instance, do all the old-school communications behemoths on it–AT&T, Comcast and Verizon–look so much worse than many younger companies? And this particular study covers only protection from governmental snooping; you can applaud Google and Facebook for their high scores here while still having questions about what they’re doing with your data for purposes such as targeting advertising.
Still, when Snowden blew his whistle, numerous tech executives expressed outrage over what he revealed and said they’d put new measures in place to safeguard their customers. It’s good to get this confirmation from the hard-nosed privacy advocates at the EFF that so many of them lived up to their word–and I’m already curious what next year’s report will look like.