Apple Gets High Marks for User Privacy Protection Efforts


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has given Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and several other prominent tech companies the highest possible ranking in the digital rights organization’s latest “Who Has Your Back?” report. The nonprofit civil liberties watchdog group issues the annual report in order to inform users about which companies do the best job of protecting their privacy and resisting government requests for their data.

As noted by the EFF in the executive summary of its report, major tech 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.” In order to highlight the companies that embrace transparency about government data requests and advocate for user privacy, the EFF created its annual “Who Has Your Back?” report.

The report uses six criteria to rank companies’ privacy protection efforts, including requiring a warrant for content of communications; telling users about government data requests; publishing transparency reports; publishing law enforcement guidelines; fighting for users’ privacy in courts; and publicly opposing mass surveillance. As noted by the EFF, companies are given a star in a category if they have fulfilled the related requirements. Nine companies reviewed by the EFF received stars in every category, including Apple, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL).

The EFF also cited Apple and Yahoo for showing particular improvement over previous years. “Apple’s rating is particularly striking because it had lagged behind industry competitors in prior years, earning just one star in 2011, 2012, and 2013,” noted the EFF. “Apple shows remarkable improvement in its commitments to transparency and privacy.”

As noted by the EFF, Apple is currently revising its policies on handling government requests for customers’ data, and it will issue an updated user privacy policy later this month. Although Apple already required a court order for law enforcement requests for user data, the iPhone maker is also adding the following statement to its privacy policy: “Apple will notify its customers when their personal information is being sought in response to legal process except where providing notice is prohibited by the legal process itself, by a court order Apple receives (e.g., an order under 18 U.S.C. §2705(b)), or by applicable law or where Apple, in its sole discretion, believes that providing notice could create a risk of injury or death to an identifiable individual or group of individuals or in situations where the case relates to child endangerment.”

The Cupertino-based company also noted that, “If there is any question about the legitimacy or scope of the court order, we challenge it and have done so in the past year.” Finally, the EFF noted that Apple is a member of the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition that opposes the bulk collection of user data on the Internet.

Apple and many of the other tech companies cited in the EFF’s report appear to be reacting to the public’s increasing concern over privacy issues following the exposure of the NSA’s bulk data collection program by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Although Apple and the other companies that received high marks should be praised for their efforts, the EFF noted that tech companies are still restricted about the amount of information they are allowed to share about requests made via National Security Letters (NSLs). However, the EFF is currently challenging the government’s use of NSLs in the courts.

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