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EFF blows Snapchat a raspberry in gov't surveillance report

Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, all come out smelling like roses

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation has issued its fourth annual "Who Has Your Back?" report, ranking internet companies on how they respond to government data requests; Snapchat, Amazon, and AT&T sit at the bottom of the ratings.

The report rates 26 internet companies and assigns each as many as six stars, with each star corresponding to what the EFF feels is a privacy best practice when dealing with governments.

The group cautions that the report doesn't cover secret surveillance. The EFF can't rate companies based on things it doesn't or can't know about. But it awarded companies points for demonstrating good practices publicly, such as in the courts or through lobbying efforts.

Some companies scored very well. Apple, Credo Mobile, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Sonic.net, Twitter, and Yahoo! all received six out of six stars, the highest possible rating.

Similarly, LinkedIn, Pinterest, SpiderOak, Tumblr, Wickr, and WordPress each were docked one star because they have no record of resisting government data requests via the courts, and the Internet Archive lost a star because it doesn't publish guidelines explaining how it responds to requests from law enforcement.

On the opposite end of the list, Snapchat does publish such guidelines, but the EFF found that it doesn't do anything else. The self-destructing selfie service received just one star out of six, the lowest rating of any company surveyed.

That means you can't expect Snapchat to ask to see a warrant before it turns over your data to the government. It also won't disclose when the government comes a-knockin', it doesn't publish transparency reports, and it doesn't do anything to stick up for its users' rights, either in the courts or in Congress.

"This is particularly troubling," the EFF's report states, "because Snapchat collects extremely sensitive user data, including potentially compromising photographs of users."

Snapchat isn't the only bad apple in this barrel, though. Amazon and AT&T each only scored two stars out of six, with the EFF singling out AT&T in particular for its ongoing "participation in mass surveillance." (Amazon, on the other hand, was just secretive, and it hasn't taken a public policy position on surveillance.)

If the EFF awarded an extra star for "most improvement," however, that honor for this year's report would go to Apple. In the last three "Who Has Your Back?" reports, the iThings-maker only scored one star. This year it leapt all the way up to scoring six out of six, having made what the EFF describes as "remarkable progress in every category."

So who knows? Maybe by next year, Snapchat will have made similar progress. The EFF says that part of its evaluation procedure is to contact the companies in question to give them a chance to rebut its findings. The Reg doesn't know whether Snapchat responded to the EFF's request for comment, but so far it hasn't responded to ours. ®

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