The tech companies divulging your data to the government

Tech companies to get tetchy with – there’s a burgeoning subset of the corporate world. From Uber’s collection of controversies to Facebook’s struggles of shaping a generation, tech companies have been eliciting suspicion, discomfort and downright derision for a while now.

The tech companies divulging your data to the government

But by far one of the most insidious undertakings of the tech industry is the divulgence of personal data to governments. Thankfully, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is on hand with Who Has Your Back, a publication that, for the past seven years, has scrutinised this perfidious dynamic, incentivising tech companies to create a climate of greater transparency.

And it’s a force for good with tangible results, as this year’s report would suggest. The EFF reports that every company evaluated did indeed adopt baseline industry best practices, citing two reassuring examples: the necessary acquisition of a warrant before passing on user data to the government and the publication of a ‘transparency report’.

Who Has Your Back ranks companies according to five criteria:

  • Follows industry-wide best practices
  • Tells users about government data requests
  • Promises not to sell out users
  • Stands up to NSL gag orders 
  • Pro-user public policy

No fewer than nine virtuous companies received credit in all five of these categories: Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr and WordPress. These household names are accredited with a track record of defending user privacy and, reports EFF, are repeatedly recognised for their vigilance in Who Has Your Back.

Meanwhile, internet titans Amazon and WhatsApp fell short of the criteria met by its smaller rivals, including a failure to inform customers of government data requests. Interestingly, the four lowest-performing companies were all telecoms firms, and big names among them: AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Hmm. That’s a bittersweet mix then. While many technology companies should be lauded for their prioritisation of user privacy over government snooping, there remain many notable omissions from this trend. Disappointingly, despite being two of the most prominent names in the industry, Amazon and WhatsApp aren’t leading the way for customer privacy protection.

Hopefully the valuable scrutiny provided by Who Has Your Back will provide adequately mounting pressure for amendments to be made. With great power comes great responsibility. It’s about time we levied that mantra onto the internet.

Header image: beachmobjellies, used under Creative Commons

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