We have huge amount of respect for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the US based digital rights activist group that has done sterling work in its fight for a free and open internet. We are however somewhat dubious about its annual ‘Who has your Back? Protecting Your Data from Government Requests’ 2014 report.
The EFF’s mission statement for this report is to find out which companies are willing to take a stand against governments for the privacy of their users,
‘We entrust our most sensitive, private, and important information to technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Verizon. Collectively, these companies are privy to the conversations, photos, social connections, and location data of almost everyone online. The choices these companies make affect the privacy of every one of their users. So which companies stand with their users, embracing transparency around government data requests? Which companies have resisted improper government demands by fighting for user privacy in the courts and on Capitol Hill? In short, which companies have your back?’
The results are certainly interesting, but with companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook, who have all been heavily implicated in helping the NSA with its PRISM blanket surveillance program, receiving a full house of six stars, eyebrows are likely to be raised (ours certainly were!).
It is true that these tech giants have made a lot of indignant noise and demands for reform over government surveillance, but when Microsoft is tardy over encrypting its internal data links even when it knows they are being tapped by the NSA, and when recently leaked emails show that a very cosy relationship exists between Google and the NSA, it is easy to be very sceptical.
Furthermore, even if these companies are making some effort to resist Government demands for users’ data, they are among the very worst offenders when it comes to spying on their own users for commercial gain (Google and Facebook in particular have their entire business model based around finding out as much as they can about each user in order to deliver highly targeted advertising).
We are huge fans of the EFF, but for it to say that these companies in any way ‘have your back’ is, we feel, a complete travesty.