Don't trust Apple, Verizon with your data, says EFF's privacy report

Don't trust Apple, Verizon with your data, says EFF's privacy report

Summary: In its latest report, the U.S. privacy and civil liberties group warn that some companies should not be trusted with your data — but some should, and actively fight on the user's behalf.

Screen Shot 2013-05-01 at 11.50.24
(Image: EFF)

And the list goes on.

In fact, out of the 18 major Web and technology companies listed, only six firms had five out of six stars rating how far they will go to either protect users from the government or even fight on their behalf in court.

The report published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) ranks the selected firms based on their privacy policies and law enforcement guidelines, but also how far they will go to protect users' data when a subpoena is issued and so on. The EFF also notes if the company in questions whether a warrant needs to be issued before it hands over data.

While Twitter and were the only two firms to have been given full marks by the privacy group, Verizon and MySpace were given none. Second to that, Yahoo, which was given just one star for fighting for its users in court, and AT&T and Apple, which fight for users in Congress, were also given one star.

According to the group, this isn't news. "MySpace and Verizon earned no stars in our report," it said. "We remain disappointed by the overall poor showing of [Internet providers] like AT&T and Verizon in our best practice categories."

Perhaps causing some conflicts, "Apple and AT&T are members of the Digital Due Process coalition" — a group which attempts to clarify U.S. online snooping laws, such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) — "but don’t observe any of the other best practices we're measuring."

Despite a data breach in 2011, Dropbox ranked as one of the most trusted firms by the EFF, as did LinkedIn, which suffered a separate albeit similar hack last year.

Microsoft also scored relatively highly thanks to its recent release of its first transparency report, following in Google's footsteps, following pressure from privacy groups regarding allegations of Chinese surveillance on Skype users.

But AT&T and Verizon, the two largest cellular firms in the U.S., with a combined customer base of around 220 million — around two-thirds of the U.S. population — rated extraordinarily badly. 

"While there remains room for improvement in areas such as the policies of location service providers and cellphone providers like AT&T and Verizon, certain practices — like publishing law enforcement guidelines and regular transparency reports — are becoming standard industry practice for Internet companies," the EFF noted.

But this comes only recently after AT&T was once again embroiled in a controversy that effectively saw its customers' data being actively wiretapped by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

CNET's Declan McCullagh noted that senior Obama administration officials allegedly secretly authorized intercepting communications carried on AT&T networks and other Internet providers, despite it may be an illegal practice under federal wiretapping laws.

Though your cell company may not stand up for your rights, but Twitter does, being the operative silver lining to the report. 

Twitter was singled out for defending its users in court. The microblogging service received respect for "standing up for its users" in the New York v. Harris case, which centered on the Occupy Wall Street protests. It was also the first company to publish in full its guidelines for law enforcement access and requests.

Google was also given a pat on the back for challenging the secretive National Security Letters.

These so-called "gagging orders" are being released in range numbers, as to not disclose the exact number that may jeopardize active investigations, but opens up a level of transparency not seen before.

"We are also seeing a shift that we hope will be adopted across Internet companies more broadly: two Internet companies — Google and Microsoft — have published figures regarding National Security Letters, secretive government demands for user information that are typically accompanied by gag orders."

All in all, as a result of this, many companies have improved significantly ahead of the curve, adding pressure on those that haven't.

Google, Comcast and Twitter are the three major firms that earned two new stars this year, while Microsoft earned three. The report also highlighted that Foursquare went from zero stars in 2012 to four stars in 2013.

"We are extremely pleased to recognize the outstanding commitment each of these companies has made to public transparency around government access to user data," the report said.

Topics: Security, Apple, Government US, Privacy, AT&T, Verizon

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • More data please

    Nice find. Would be good to have the entire table (including google, microsoft, facebook, etc) in the article, unless you can't due to copyright issues.
    • Too Lazy to

      Click on the link in the first line of the second paragraph?
      • Not really

        I just find it weird that the article is only about a rather small table which it neither displays nor directly links to.

        The table is on page 7 of the pdf in the link.
  • I wouldn't trust ANY of them.

    In exchange for just the right amount of political influence...there isn't a company on the planet who wouldn't sell their customers down the river.
  • the more interesting questions is

    Can we trust EFF?

    After all, someone might have sponsored this study.
    • Why

      Why dont you read up on the organisation before you post empty comments here? Brains are for using ... even on the Internet.
      • Imagine

        I might know all about the EFF even before you discovered this "Internet" thing.

        Just saying...
  • I don't trust apple

    That is why I have switched entirely away from all apple products and services.
    • The joke's on you.

      I'd rather take my chances with Apple handing over my information to the feds, versus Google selling my information to the highest bidder. I don't partake in illegal activities that would warrant such snooping by the feds in the first place.

      You didn't even read the article, did you?
      • Apple can do no wrong

        So Apple does poorly on an EFF user data protection report, and you still try to spin it as pro-Apple. Hm, I think we have a word for that...
        • If the table is rigged

          EFF is heavily financed certain tech companies and not others, this should make the table suspect.
      • The table agrees with TB3

        Apple = 1 star, google = 4 star.

        Oh yeah, you're basing your entire argument on the fact your information is a) valuable on it's own, and b) that google auctions data release. Neither are accurate so there goes your argument. Try harder next time.
        Little Old Man
      • Did you?

        Did you read the article? And the associated report? Of course you didn't. Apple rates 1 star out of six. Google ranks five stars out of six. The one star that Apple earns is also a star that Google has covered: "Fights for users' rights in Congress".

        And you REALLY think that the "I don't partake in illegal activities that would warrant such snooping by the feds in the first place." line is applicable? REALLY?
      • some proof, please

        of google "selling my information to the highest bidder". This claim is really getting ridiculous. But on the other hand - thank you guys for it because it got me thinking and the more I think and read about it, the more ridiculous the claim becomes. Their TOS specifically states they don't. Oh, but they just lie, because they are an 'ad company' right?
        Also I really can't understand that rationale anyway, the info is way more directly valuable to google themselves.

        How about an example of information selling - I ordered xmas toys from amazon and had them sent to my work address - a dumb idea. After a couple weeks I started getting flooded with all sorts of parenting magazines and other related kids mail that never came before. The boss isn't happy!
        • look at your targetted ads

          Every time you see an AD pop up and it conveniently matches something you recently did a search on or a web site you visited, that is Google selling your information. They might not directly sell it, but they are selling the fact that you were looking for something fairly specific.
      • Not so fast...

        Just because you aren't doing anything illegal, doesn't mean you aren't under suspect. Maybe a brother of a co-worker of a friend of a friend of a co-worker got arrested for possession of .25 gram of marijuana. You might be suspect by association.
  • Mising Data

    So I could not help but notice Cox Communications is not on any of this data. Why is that.
    Poli Tecs
  • Summary

    0 stars - myspace, verizon
    1 star - apple, at&t, yahoo
    2 stars - amazon, comcast
    3 stars - faebook, tumblr.

    Also interesting that Google got more stars (5) than did Microsoft (4).

    And where's T-Mobile?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • 1 more star on "fights for users rights in courts"

      which makes sense since Google's main source of income is it's user's data, while MS's is software, so it's really not something I myself would use in a metric like this.

      Google may fight for users rights in courts to keep others away from user's data, but they don't stop themselves from using that data on their own, so I could view that as self serving.
      William Farrel
      • And yet, Microsoft has

        o a stake in Facebook
        o partnered with Facebook

        Note that Facebook really didn't do very well in the EFF's assessment (I'd rate them a C- or D+). Microsoft can't control what Facebook does (as their stake in the company is relatively small), but they can choose whether or not to consort with Facebook.
        Rabid Howler Monkey