Who's Screwing You Over on Privacy Issues? Pretty Much Everybody

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Dropbox--flamed this week for revealing that it will hand over your stored files to the feds if requested--is not alone in its willingness to throw users' privacy under the proverbial bus.

Nor is Apple, under the gun today after a revelation by O'Reilly Radar that 3G iPads and iPhones keep track of users' locations in unencrypted files.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently released its annual Privacy and Protection Report Card, rating the largest online players' performance in four categories:

  • Telling users about data demands
  • Being transparent about government requests for information
  • Fighting for user privacy in the courts
  • Advocating for privacy before Congress

EFF asks the provocative question, "When the government comes knocking, who has your back?" The discouraging but unsurprising answer appears to be, "You better have your own," because almost everybody failed.

As ZDNet's Violet Blue said, "They've either got your back in a pinch, or they'll sing like yellow canaries when the chips are down and sacrifice you without a second glance."

How the Big Boys Did

Among the tech firms whose performance on privacy issues can best be described as "not terrible:" Google (two stars plus two half-stars), Amazon (two stars) and Twitter (one star and two half-stars).

Google was the only surveyed company to rate something in all four categories, giving it a solid grade of C. Google got props from the EFF for citing user privacy as it pushed back in court against a request for search records, and for regular reporting about how and when they provide data to governments around the world.

Amazon and Twitter received props for their handling of requests for individuals' data, and Yahoo earned a star for resisting subpoenas of a user's email records.

Microsoft, Facebook and AT&T earned one star each for lobbying Congress on privacy concerns.

Coming up completely empty: Apple, Comcast, MySpace, Skype, and Verizon.

Privacy-minded users have already kicked themselves off Facebook and sworn off FourSquare and cloud-based anything. They won't get much additional benefit from a privacy bill rolling out on Capitol Hill.

The Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights, introduced in the Senate last week by strange bedfellows John McCain and John Kerry, got a lukewarm review from EFF's Rainey Reitman: "The bill's most glaring defect is its emphasis on regulation of information use and sharing, rather than on the collection of data in the first place. For example, the bill would allow a user to opt out of third-party ad targeting based on tracking--but not third-party tracking."

Moreover, Reitman adds, a loophole in the legislation allows sites like Facebook to step neatly around privacy protections: "A user would surrender any right to opt out of being tracked by Facebook or Google simply by having an account with them."

You are warned...

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