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New "Who Has Your Back" report shows Internet companies competing on privacy

When the government comes knocking, who has your back?

When governments are after your personal data, which online services will stand up and defend it? In its fourth annual Who Has Your Back report, EFF looks at companies' public policies and practices, so that privacy-conscious consumers can make an informed decision about who to trust with their most sensitive data. We were pleased to find out that, in a year rocked by high-profile disclosures of NSA spying reaching into our online accounts, many companies have responded by increasing their commitment to transparency, pushing back against mass surveillance, and fighting for their users. The full report goes into extensive detail about how each company performed, and what exactly our evaluation criteria were. Public policies and commitments aren't the last word when it comes to defending your privacy, but as we trust online services with more and more of our information, it's an increasingly important component. If you're concerned about your privacy from overreaching surveillance, you'll want to know: when the government comes knocking, who has your back?

We entrust our most sensitive, private, and important information to technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Verizon. Collectively, these companies are privy to the conversations, photos, social connections, and location data of almost everyone online. The choices these companies make affect the privacy of every one of their users. So which companies stand with their users, embracing transparency around government data requests? Which companies have resisted improper government demands by fighting for user privacy in the courts and on Capitol Hill? In short, which companies have your back?

These questions are even more important in the wake of the past year's revelations about mass surveillance, which showcase how the United States government has been taking advantage of the rich trove of data we entrust to technology companies to engage in surveillance of millions of innocent people in the US and around the world. Internal NSA documents and public statements by government officials confirm that major telecommunications companies are an integral part of these programs. We are also faced with unanswered questions, conflicting statements, and troubling leaked documents which raise real questions about the government's ability to access to the information we entrust to social networking sites and webmail providers.

The legal landscape is unsettled. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other organizations have filed constitutional challenges to mass surveillance programs. Both Congress and President Obama are negotiating legislative reform that could curtail or even end bulk surveillance programs, while other Congressional proposals would instead enshrine them into law. In multiple recent public opinion polls, the American people attest that they believe government surveillance has gone too far.

In the face of unbounded surveillance, users of technology need to know which companies are willing to take a stand for the privacy of their users.

In this fourth-annual report, EFF examines the publicly-available policies of major Internet companies - including Internet service providers, email providers, mobile communications tools, telecommunications companies, cloud storage providers, location-based services, blogging platforms, and social networking sites - to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data. The purpose of this report is to allow users to make informed decisions about the companies with whom they do business. It is also designed to incentivize companies to adopt best practices, be transparent about how data flows to the government, and to take a stand for their users' privacy in Congress and in the courts whenever it is possible to do so.

The categories we evaluate in this report represent objectively verifiable, public criteria and so cannot and do not evaluate secret surveillance. We compiled the information in this report by examining each company's published terms of service, privacy policy, transparency report, and guidelines for law enforcement requests, if any. 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.

Download the full report.
international_who_has_your_back_eff.pdf (1387 KB)

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