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.
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.