Major Carriers AT&T, Verizon Continue to Lag in EFF Privacy Report

Major telecoms like AT&T and Verizon continue to lag behind in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s annual “Who Has Your Back” report.

While many companies have made strides when it comes to how they handle transparency and government requests post-Snowden, major telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon continue to lag behind.

Despite publishing transparency reports within the last year, the two companies scored the lowest on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Who Has Your Back” report, an annual survey the watchdog produces to keep track of how companies fight for their customers’ privacy.

Now in its fifth year, the report has gone through a bit of a shake-up as far as the categories each company is judged on. The EFF has consolidated all of the industry’s established standards from over the last several years and boiled them down into one category, “industry-accepted best practices.”

To earn a star in that category companies must require a warrant before handing over users’ content, and publish transparency reports and law enforcement guides.

The category is joined by four others; companies are judged on whether they tell their users about government data demands, disclose policies on data retention, disclose government content removal requests, and whether the company opposes backdoors.

Nine companies excelled in this year’s report – Adobe, Apple, CREDO Mobile, Dropbox, the telecommunications company Sonic, private messaging app Wickr, Wikimedia, WordPress.com, and Yahoo – each earned a star for the five categories they were evaluated on.

The EFF especially praised Dropbox for not only adopting best practices but for also tweaking its policy to inform users about law enforcement requests pertaining their information before it actually complies with the request.

The group also applauds Twitter, for publishing an interactive map that details the content removal requests it receives from the government. The service received four stars and the EFF claims it appreciates its efforts, but also believes it should give its users notice when the government attempts to access their data.

Receiving three out of four possible stars, Comcast is also lauded by the EFF, particularly in the way the telecom has clarified its data retention policies. The watchdog points out the company has clearly outlined its stance toward the matter in a Law Enforcement Handbook made available to the public. The company explicitly states that it maintains data on past and current customers, including IP and session information for up to 180 days, and customers’ deleted emails for 30 days.

On the other side of the coin, telecoms AT&T and Verizon received the report’s lowest ratings, one and two stars respectively. The EFF says it commends the companies’ efforts so far, but reasons they both have room for improvement. Neither publishes information about its data retention policies nor promises to provide advance notice to users about government data demands it receives.

The popular messaging app WhatsApp failed greatly in this year’s report, earning just one star. After being acquired by Facebook last year for $22 billion, the service only fared well in one category and that’s only due to its parent company’s stance on rejecting government backdoors.

Publicly opposing government backdoors in software is perhaps the most noticeable stance the companies in the report have taken: 87 percent of those surveyed claim they’re against government-engineered weaknesses. In fact most of the companies listed – Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. – were among those who signed a letter to President Obama organized by the Open Technology Institute last month to publicly back the sentiment. AT&T and Verizon are the only two companies to not oppose deliberate security weaknesses in software while Reddit has not issued a public statement on the matter.

While last year saw a deluge of transparency reports, this year’s version of EFF’s report comes as several other companies have finally begun releasing their first reports.

Amazon released its first transparency report just this week and while the report didn’t contain much in the way of information, the EFF still claim they view it as a step in the right direction for Amazon, calling 2015 “a turning point for the company,” which received three stars in EFF’s report this year, up from two in 2014.

2015 has also seen Reddit and photo messaging service Snapchat post their first transparency reports.

Last year’s report, as was to be expected in the wake of Snowden’s revelations, saw some companies make serious progress when it came to privacy. Companies like Apple and Yahoo scored single stars in 2013 but saw a quick turnaround in 2014, each scoring six stars.

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