If you are concerned about data security, you might want to delete WhatsApp from your smartphone, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The popular messaging app came in dead last among the 24 tech companies EFF rated in its fifth annual “Who Has Your Back” report on service providers’ privacy and transparency practices.
The companies were graded on a scale of zero to five stars, with each star representing the company’s compliance with each of five different criteria, including following industry best practices, informing users about government data demands, disclosing policies on data retention, disclosing government content removal requests, and opposing government-mandated backdoor access. Companies that do not host content, such as messaging apps, were rated out of four stars, since content removal requests do not apply.
What Is Up with WhatsApp?
This was WhatsApp’s first year to be included in EFF’s evaluation, although the organization was informed a year ago that it would be included this year. Nevertheless, the company has apparently done nothing to comply with industry standard privacy and data security practices. WhatsApp received only one star, and even that was awarded only due to the stance its parent company, Facebook, has taken against government backdoors, according to the EFF.
WhatsApp had plenty of company at the bottom of the list. Internet service providers AT&T and Verizon scored only slightly better, with both continuing to lag behind common industry standards. The EFF said large telecom companies frequently find themselves behind the times with regard to other tech companies, although Comcast was awarded an impressive three out of four stars, failing only to alert users of government data demands.
But the news is not all bad for Verizon and AT&T. The EFF acknowledged that Verizon, now in its fifth year on the report, has adopted some of the best practices the EFF had identified in previous years. “We appreciate the steps Verizon has taken to stand by its users, but there is room for improvement,” the EFF noted. “Verizon should have a stronger policy of informing users of government requests, disclose its data retention policies, and take a public position opposing back doors.” Even AT&T, not known for being the most customer-centric company, has made strides toward increasing transparency.
More Aggressive Criteria
But as governments have become more aggressive in collecting personal data on their citizens, and the amount of data available has increased, the EFF has made its criteria more ambitious in an effort to push tech companies toward taking a firmer stand against government intrusion. With more people spending more of their lives online, the EFF said that users should now expect more from their technology providers in terms of protecting their privacy.
“The criteria we used to judge companies in 2011 were ambitious for the time, but they’ve been almost universally adopted in the years since then,” according to the EFF report. “Now, users should expect companies to far exceed the standards articulated in the original ‘Who Has Your Back’ report.”
Among the top rated companies this year were Adobe, Apple, Yahoo, Dropbox, and Wordpress, each of which received perfect scores. Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, LinkedIn, and Twitter, also did well, receiving four out of five stars.
Posted: 2015-06-18 @ 2:23pm PT
EFF's criteria still have no teeth. Industry's "best practices" are lacking and EFF's does not measure who is protecting consumer data from unwanted mining and tracking by *private* spooks, aka marketer and other outfits aiming to plunder consumers' wallets. Yahoo gets the same stars count as Apple or Wikimedia? Seriously? This is the Yahoo that does not respect consumer's do-not-track requests....