The Internet Companies That Protect Your Privacy When The Government Starts Prying

See which Internet companies are most (and least) willing to go to bat for their users when the feds request private data. The ratings, courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, may surprise you.

The Internet Companies That Protect Your Privacy When The Government Starts Prying
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

With the Snowden revelations, we learned a lot more about how the government snoops into the lives of U.S. citizens and how technology companies help them do it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s latest “Who Has Your Back?” report doesn’t exactly reveal which companies are helping the NSA most. But it paints a picture of those companies that are taking the most action on privacy matters, and those that have more important things to worry about.


The report looks at the policies of 26 Internet companies–from ISPs and email providers, to telecoms and blogging platforms–across six categories “to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data.” That includes whether the company requires a warrant from a neutral magistrate before handing over content, whether companies tell users about NSA requests (unless specifically prohibited by law), and whether they fight for users’ privacy rights in court.

Nine companies–Apple, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic, Twitter, and Yahoo–gets stars in all categories. Twenty-three companies require a warrant. And 20 companies tell users about government requests. All the companies received at least one star.

A few companies stand out for their lack of policy. Snapchat only scores in one category (“publishing law enforcement guidelines”). “This is particularly troubling because Snapchat collects extremely sensitive user data, including potentially compromising photographs of users,” the report says.

But AT&T and Comcast aren’t much better. Neither require a warrant before allowing the NSA to view content, and neither tells users about government requests. And neither has sought to protect user rights by lobbying in Congress.

The EFF hopes the report will “allow users to make informed decisions about the companies with whom they do business” at a time when issues of electronic surveillance have never been more on the agenda.

“Too often, technology companies are the weak link, providing the government with a honeypot of rich data,” it adds. “We must strengthen their ability to resist over-broad data demands and bring light to the flow of data from corporate servers to the government.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.