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AT&T, Verizon, WhatsApp rated worst in privacy rankings

At least on the plus side, most major companies -- including Apple, Dropbox, Twitter, Yahoo -- are doing a far better job this year.

Some of the seven major tech companies hit by claims they were complicit in government surveillance are now among some of the best in protecting user data, a new report has said.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on Wednesday released its fifth annual report into "who has your back," a five-star ranked system of technology companies that publicly and privately work to ensure its customers' data is protected from unwarranted government spying.

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Out of the two-dozen companies evaluated by the privacy group, exactly one-third of those companies were granted the full five-stars.

Perhaps the most telling fact from the report is that two of those companies, Apple and Yahoo, which were accused of participating in the US government's PRISM surveillance program, were among those who received the full five-stars.

Out of the other companies listed on the now infamous slideshow leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Facebook ranked with four stars, and Microsoft (and Skype) along with Google (and YouTube) ranked with three stars.

(AOL, which was also named as a "provider," was not listed by the EFF's report.)

Compare that to the privacy group's report two years ago, just weeks before the Snowden revelations first landed, Apple had zero stars, and Yahoo had just one. Although Facebook, Google, and Microsoft had been pushing for reforms, even they fell significantly short in certain areas.

Equally as interesting, only one internet provider -- Sonic.net -- was given the full five-stars. The Santa Rosa, Calif.-based company has long been seen at the forefront of privacy matters by publishing transparency reports of government data demands and other data-related policies.

"We entrust countless intimate details about our personal life to digital service providers. Often it's corporate policies, not legal safeguards, that are our best defense against government intrusion," said Rainey Reitman, EFF's activism director, in prepared remarks. "Technology companies must have the strongest possible policies to protect privacy, and we're impressed that this group of nine has stepped up and met our ambitious new standards."

However, some of the worst offenders have barely made any changes in policy, despite a heightened awareness into government surveillance practices in recent months and years.

AT&T and Verizon scored one and two stars respectively, the report said.

For Verizon, which according to a secret leaked order was forced to hand over daily records of its entire customer base to the government, should "have a stronger policy of informing users of government requests," among other things, the report said.

But the harshest rhetoric was saved for WhatsApp, which was bought by Facebook last year, which had "adopted none of the best practices we've identified as part of this report."

"We appreciate the steps that WhatsApp's parent company Facebook has taken to stand by its users, but there is room for WhatsApp to improve," said the report. "WhatsApp does get credit for Facebook's public position opposing back doors, and we commend Facebook for that."