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Some tech companies share data without warrant

We learned last year that paranoia about government surveillance is not just for those who wear tin-foil headgear.

The question now is, who’s watching the watchers who have infiltrated people’s lives through their online interfaces?

One group keeping vigil is the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which just released its fourth annual survey Who Has Your Back? Protecting Your Data from Government Requests.

The Foundation examines the publicly available policies of major Internet companies, cautioning that it is unable to evaluate secret surveillance. Their 2014 survey rates top online providers in key categories, such as whether the provider: demands a warrant before providing content; tells users about government data requests; publishes transparency reports and enforcement guidelines, and publicly fights for users’ privacy rights in courts and in Congress.

This year’s top ratings – gold stars in all six categories – went to Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic.net, Twitter, Yahoo and Credo Mobile. A number of other companies fell short only in the category of not having gone to court to defend user privacy, and the Foundation pointed out that many of those companies simply had not had a chance yet.

Three service providers had low ratings as the only vendors who don’t require a warrant before sharing content with the government: AT&T, Comcast and Snapchat. In fact, Snapchat rated only a single gold star, for publishing its law enforcement guidelines. The report called this poor showing “particularly troubling because Snapchat collects extremely sensitive user data.”

Apple and Yahoo showed “enormous improvements” in government access policies, the Foundation said, and more companies have begun issuing transparency reports. Apple went from one star to six stars in just a year, and the Foundation hailed Yahoo for defending user privacy in a secret battle with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

For the first time in its four years of issuing the report, every company reviewed earned credit in at least one category, the Foundation said. Its full report is here.

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