EFF: Twitter Scores, Verizon Fails At Protecting User Privacy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted its annual report on which Internet vendors do the most to help protect their users's private information. And this year's two best protectors by the EFF's definition? Twitter and Internet Service Provider Sonic.net.

Each of these two vendors scored well within the EFF's six criteria used to judge online services in the organization's Who Has Your Back? 2013 report posted today.

For the EFF, the most privacy-oriented companies should comply with these policies:

  • Requiring a Warrant for Content
  • Telling Users About Government Data Requests
  • Publishing Transparency Reports
  • Publishing Law Enforcement Guidelines
  • Fighting for Users’ Privacy in Court
  • Fighting for Users’ Privacy in Congress

Each rated company gets a star when it does well with one of these criteria. Twitter and Sonic.net nailed it with six stars. LinkedIn, Dropbox and storage service SpiderOak received five stars, having each missed the fighting for users’ privacy in court category.

The worst performers in the EFF's round-up of privacy advocacy? Social media platform MySpace and cellular carrier Verizon, which were awarded no stars at all. Apple, AT&T and Yahoo, only received one start apiece, with the latter getting the award for pushing back in the courts and the other two companies achieving the fighting for users' privacy in Congress star.

Overall, the EFF thinks that things are getting better among these vendors that deal with so much user data.

"We’re happy to report that several of the companies included in last year’s report have significantly improved their practices and policies concerning government access to user data," the organization reported, "Comcast, Google, SpiderOak, and Twitter earned two new stars this year while Microsoft earned three new stars. Foursquare went from zero stars in 2012 to four in 2013."

The report might seem a bit disjointed in its approach, lumping a lot of companies in together with the only common thread being the handling of user data. Users' expectations on a social network like Facebook is much different than privacy concerns on Verizon or Amazon.

But this is a report about government overreach, not expectations of privacy. The government may be able to see your data on your Facebook page, but to use it in a trial or investigation, they should still use a warrant, the EFF is arguing. Users may be surprised to see so many large data handlers that don't even have that basic requirement.

Things are getting better, but there is still a long way to go.