The Winners and Losers of EFF's 'Who Has Your Back?' Privacy Report - Technologist
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The Winners and Losers of EFF's 'Who Has Your Back?' Privacy Report

You may have noticed that we're a little bit obsessed with privacy around here. It's not just the NSA revelations, or the private data mining, though both of those are compelling reasons to be concerned. It's because we, like you, are lawyers.

Why should lawyers care? The Fourth Amendment -- it probably should still mean something, and the more the Feds dig in to your data, the less the Amendment means. Plus, we have a duty of confidentiality to our clients, which means data should be kept as secure as possible -- from hackers, data-mining companies, and of course, the government.

Today's focus? That'd be the government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation just updated its annual "Who Has Your Back?" report, which awards stars for steps taken by private companies to protect user data from government requests. We outlined the categories last year, so flip back there if you need to review the criteria.

Let's recap the winners, the losers, and the miserable failures:

All-Stars (Pun Intended): Five or Six Stars

Perfect 6: Apple, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic.net, Twitter, Yahoo

My, how the mighty have risen. Last year, Twitter and Sonic.net (a California ISP) were the only six star recipients. This year? In the wake of a lot of bad NSA publicity and other PR stunts, it seems the biggest names in tech have made some actual reforms. Yahoo and Apple were the biggest winners, going from one to six stars in a single year.

Flawless Five: LinkedIn, Pinterest, SpiderOak, Tumblr, Wickr, WordPress

How is five flawless? The EFF report repeatedly emphasizes that many companies haven't yet had the opportunity to fight in court for users' rights. None of these companies got a star in that category, but it might not be their fault.

Just Five: Internet Archive

In its first year on the report, the Internet Archive was only docked for not publishing guidelines for law enforcement officers on how to request user data.

Biggest Losers: One or Two Stars

Two is Terrible: Amazon, AT&T

Let's start with the positive. Amazon fought in court to protect the privacy of its users' book purchases and requires a warrant before handing over data. It fails, however, in transparency: no reports, no guidelines, no notice to users when data is requested. It also lost a star in the lobbying Congress category due to conspicuous silence in the wake of the last year's NSA disclosures.

AT&T also lost its lobbying star, but picked up a star for adding transparency reports and continuing to publish law enforcement guidelines. It fails in every other regard, however. (Note to self: see if Sonic.net has expanded its San Jose coverage.)

One Star Might as Well Be No Star: Snapchat

It's been a bad couple of weeks for the self-destructing sexting picture messaging service. An update with additional features and less ephemeral messaging options was widely criticized, the FTC slapped the company for misleading consumers about the not-so-impermanent messages, and now the company which took off on a privacy concept gets a single star in a data privacy survey.

The company doesn't require warrants, doesn't promise to tell users if Uncle Sam is snooping, doesn't publish transparency reports, hasn't stepped in a courtroom, and hasn't publicly spoken out against mass surveillance. Maybe they were too busy in court fighting each other to fight for their users?

Do privacy considerations affect your choice in service providers? Tweet us your thoughts @FindLawLP.

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