Revealed: the tech firms challenging government data grabs

16 May 2014

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) has given top marks to Twitter, Apple, Google and Microsoft, but slammed Snapchat on transparency

Top tech firms have gotten better at informing users of government data requests in the fallout of the Snowden revelations, according to privacy group the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation).

The group tracks how easily tech firms and telcos hand over user data to governments, asking if they tell users first, require a warrant, publish transparency reports and are willing to fight for users in court and in the US Congress.

The EFF stresses that it has no way of tracking secret surveillance, which is not included in the report.

This year, a host of tech firms were awarded perfect scores, including Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, with many others promising to tell users when their data is handed over - which the EFF believes is key.

This seems to be one of the legacies of the Snowden disclosures: the new transparency around mass surveillance has prompted significant policy reforms by major tech companies

The privacy group said this year saw "major improvements", especially around informing users and fighting for users in Congress.

"For the first time in our four years of 'Who Has Your Back' reports, every company we reviewed earned credit in at least one category," the EFF said. "This is a significant improvement over our original report in 2011, when neither Comcast, Myspace, Skype, nor Verizon received any stars."

"These changes in policy were likely a reaction to the releases of the last year, which repeatedly pointed to a close relationship between tech companies and the National Security Agency," the group added. "Tech companies have had to work to regain the trust of users concerned that the US government was accessing data they stored in the cloud."

Of all the companies EFF examines, only one - a US teleco - doesn't publicly oppose mass surveillance.

"This seems to be one of the legacies of the Snowden disclosures: the new transparency around mass surveillance has prompted significant policy reforms by major tech companies," the EFF added.

Good news, bad news

The EFF said Apple and Yahoo had particularly good progress, with the former leaping from one star to six this year, but had harsher words for Snapchat - which scored a single point for publishing its law enforcement guidelines.

"This is particularly troubling because Snapchat collects extremely sensitive user data, including potentially compromising photographs of users," the EFF said. "Given the large number of users and nonusers whose photos end up on Snapchat, Snapchat should publicly commit to requiring a warrant before turning over the content of its users’ communications to law enforcement. We urge them to change course."

The full report from the EFF is available here, while the scores are listed below.

EFF list

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