According to the fourth annual report on customer data privacy among large businesses published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, almost all of the major social media and high-tech titans — including Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) — earned top marks for protecting user data privacy.
The report, titled “Who Has Your Back? 2014: Protecting Your Data From Government Requests“, evaluates the privacy policies and data transparency reports from 26 technology and digital media firms to assess how well they protect user/customer data.
Statement from EFF on data privacy
A statement from the overview of the EFF report highlights overall improvement in corporate data privacy policies during the last year. “Tech companies have had to work to regain the trust of users concerned that the U.S. government was accessing data they stored in the cloud. 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.”
Criteria for evaluation
EFF established six criteria for grading the customer data privacy performance of large tech and digital media firms.
Requiring a warrant: Does the firm require a warrant before releasing emails or other electronic communications to government agencies?
Guarantee of notice: Does the firm guarantee it will notify users when government or law enforcement requests personal data?
Transparency: Does the firm make public the number of government data requests it receives and whether the requests involve a warrant?
Law Enforcement: Are the firm’s interpretations of law enforcement guidelines made public?
Courtroom Battles: Does the firm take questionable data requests by government to court to protect their customers’ data?
Congressional Battles: Does the firm take battles over government data requests to Congress or make an effort to defend data privacy protections before Congress?
EFF also gave companies an opportunity to explain their current policies or provide proof of new policies. “As part of our evaluation, we contacted each company to explain our findings and to give them an opportunity to provide evidence of improving policies and practices.”
Amazon, MySpace, Verizon and Snapchat get low marks
While the large majority of high tech and social media companies received high or improved data privacy grades this year compared to 2013, a few companies are laggards in this area. The worst offender was Snapchat, who only received one star (publishing law enforcement guidelines). Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), MySpace and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) were also poor performers, with each firm receiving just two stars.