Which is the Worst Company in the World for User Privacy?

Posted March 22, 2013 10:34 am by with 9 comments

It’s pretty common knowledge that personal privacy isn’t what it used to be. Plenty of folks say privacy as we once knew it is dead in the water. To put it frankly, privacy no longer exists.

Between data mining tracking cookies, invasive EULAs, and shaky governmental legislation, the privacy of your personal information in the digital realm stands on extremely shaky ground. Many organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have been making an active effort to safeguard user rights and keep user privacy, well…private. Unfortunately, for every organization which pays heed to the sanctity of personal information, there are several which don’t really care all that much.

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Some are worse than others, of course.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Privacy Report. The Electronic Frontier Foundation took it upon itself to rank several of the best-known, most highly-trafficked websites and organizations in the digital realm on how much they cared about their user’s rights. These organizations were rated based on five criteria(via EFF):

  1. A public commitment to inform users when their data is sought by the government. To earn a star in this category, Internet companies must promise to tell users when their data is being sought by the government unless prohibited by law. This gives users a chance to defend themselves against overreaching government demands for their data.
  2. Transparency about when and how often companies hand data to the government. This category has two parts. Companies earn a half-star in this category if they publish statistics on how often they provide user data to governments worldwide. Companies also earn a half-star if they make public any policies they have about sharing data with the government, such as guides for law enforcement. (If a company doesn’t have law enforcement guidelines at all, though, we don’t hold that against them). Companies that publish both statistics and law enforcement guidelines receive a full star.
  3. Willingness to Fight for users’ privacy rights in the courts. To earn recognition in this category, companies must have a public record of resisting overbroad government demands for access to user content in court. Not all companies will be put in the position of having to defend their users before a judge, but those who do deserve special recognition.
  4. Willingness to Fight for users’ privacy in Congress. Internet companies earn a star in this category if they support efforts to modernize electronic privacy laws to defend users in the digital age by joining the Digital Due Process coalition.

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The results are…rather telling. Verizon, Skype, Myspace, and FourSquare all come in at dead last, with nary a star between them. These organizations evidently care nothing for their users, nor are they particularly concerned with safeguarding user privacy. Neither Apple nor Microsoft nor AT&T fared much better, with a pathetic one star each. Facebook, meanwhile, had a measly star and a half for fighting in congress and half-heartedly informing its users about government requests.

So…there you have it. Surprising absolutely no one, some of the largest organizations in the world seem to care little about the privacy of their users (if indeed they care at all). It’s more than a little disheartening that these organizations control such a large swathe of the means by which we communicate: social networks, smartphones, web browsers…you get the idea.

Believe it or not, this list actually represents a marked improvement over last year’s results for all the major online service providers. That’s both encouraging and discouraging at once: while it’s certainly heartening to see privacy taking more of a front-seat in the considerations of these organizations, it’s also a little distressing to think how bad things likely were in 2011. The 2013 report should be coming up very soon – we’ll see if they’ve continued to improve, or if they’ve sunk back into old habits.

Hopefully, we’ll notice the latter.

9 responses to Which is the Worst Company in the World for User Privacy?

  1. renosablast March 23rd, 2013 at 1:10 am

    Google appears to have the most stars or partial stars, but their App Store privacy policies are for the birds. Have you ever read all the permissions you have to grant to download the average game? Grant access to your entire phonebook and contact lists to play a lousy game? Google sure isn’t practicing or enforcing any privacy with the millions of downloads of its “approved” apps.

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  2. richtea March 23rd, 2013 at 7:36 am

    I would note have guessed Google coming out tops. A surprising surprise.

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  3. David M March 23rd, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Good for Google. At the very least they made a half-hearted attempt in all the categories.

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  4. pronostici calcio March 25th, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Good for google!

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  5. JohnS. March 27th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    This is crap. My privacy is only partly about the government. Just as important is what these companies do with all of the data they are hoovering up about us, and this “report” says nothing about that at all; most likely because the scores look much worse then.

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    • Gina March 28th, 2013 at 7:14 am

      I, too, was hoping the results would include companies that give our information to others with no regard–not just those aiding us with government issues. Are there any reliable organizations that provide this additional information?

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  6. Carlio Smith March 27th, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    And for those that subscribe to cloud, you have no idea what privacy is!!! AND you will never have it. Serves you right for being a tat.

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  7. Hb March 27th, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    “Facebook, meanwhile, had a measly star and a half for fighting in congress and half-heartedly informing its users about government requests.”. Really? I can only see 1 star for FB………..

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  8. Grace Birdsong March 30th, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    I’m not that concerned about information provided to the government or lobbying activity.

    My big concern is that personally identifiable data (name, address, email address, phone number, etc. is “shared” (i.e. sold) to other entities without my express, case by case, approval for a given entity to have my information.

    How about a report on THAT???

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