Each year, an organization that’s very well-known to folks who care about free speech and net neutrality publishes a report regarding corporate efforts to safeguard their users’ privacy. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, known in short as the EFF, is a not-for-profit group that advocates digital rights. They have recently come out with their yearly “Who Has Your Back” report, which rates companies based on their efforts to resist pressures from worldwide governments into supplying them with private end-user data. In the recent context of the NSA and Edward Snowden debacle, it’s refreshing to note that Apple’s privacy efforts were appreciated in this latest report from the EFF.
The EFF report looks at six categories and ranks companies on a six-star system. Here are the criteria analyzed:
– The company requires a warrant to provide content.
– The company informs its users that the government has made data requests from them.
– The company publishes reports related to transparency efforts.
– The company publishes guidelines on how they enforce current laws.
– The company fights for the users’ privacy rights in courts of law.
– The company fights for the users’ privacy rights in the U.S. Congress.
Apple fans will be happy to learn that their favorite tech company scored the maximum six stars in all the six categories described above. And, what’s more, even, the EFF report commends Apple for having come a long way within the past year, in what concerns user privacy policies. Over the past years, Apple had consistently received a one-star rating in this department. In the words of EFF representatives themselves,
“Apple shows remarkable improvement in its commitments to transparency and privacy.”
It’s important to note that, while this report paints an encouraging picture for those end-users who care about how their data is handled by corporate America, it’s solely based on publicly available information. In other words, should the government issue any secret orders for surveillance to a particular company, such orders would not be included in the report. However, this is not to say that the recent revelations made to the global public, regarding PRISM, have not influenced Apple’s privacy efforts. After word got out that the U.S. National Security Agency was keeping tabs on its own people, through this top secret intelligence gathering program, Apple increased its transparency. The company took several measures toward informing its clients that it was not taking part in this program.
What do Apple’s privacy protection efforts consist of?
In terms of the actual measures implemented by Apple, here’s what they did over the course of the past year:
– Apple issued a “Commitment to Customer Privacy”. They began to disclose data requests made by the government and also informed the public that they require a warrant before honoring such requests.
– Apple released a “Report on Government Information Requests” in November 2013.
– In November 2013, Apple also officially promised to inform its users of any such requests, from any government agency. They released a set of guidelines for such requests in May 2014, in which they detail the kind of information they will and will not provide.
– Apple joined the Government Surveillance Coalition. This group lobbies the U.S. government to make data requests more transparent for the public. Tim Cook, together with other tech CEOs, has met with Barack Obama to discuss this issue.
– In March 2014, Apple hired Sabina Ross, who is now in charge of protecting end-user data.
Aside for commending Apple’s privacy protection efforts, the EFF also awarded the full six stars to other major tech companies, such as Google, Dropbox, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Twitter.