World’s biggest tech companies failing users on data privacy

Some of the world’s top tech companies are failing users over privacy, according to the most comprehensive research published on the subject.

Firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, AT&T, Orange France and Vodafone were surveyed by an organisation called Ranking Digital Rights using 31 measures that focused on corporate disclosure of policies and practices that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

After examining their user agreements, each was given a percentage grade, with no companies scoring over 65 per cent, and only six scoring 50 per cent. Seven companies – nearly half – only scored 22 per cent.

The report’s key findings were:

  • Disclosure  about  collection,  use,  sharing,  and  retention  of  user  information  is  poor.  Even  companies  that  make efforts  to  publish  such  information  still  fail  to  communicate  clearly  with  users  about  what  is  collected  about  them, with  whom  it  is  shared,  under  what  circumstances,  and  how  long  the  information  is  kept.
  • Disclosure  about  private  and  self-regulatory  processes  is  minimal  and  ambiguous  at  best,  and  often  non-existent.  Few  companies  disclose  data  about  private  third-party  requests  to  remove  or  restrict  content or  to  share  user  information – even  when  those  requests  come  under  circumstances  such  as  a  court  order  or subpoena.
  • In  some  instances,  current  laws  and  regulations make  it  more  difficult  for  companies  to  respect  freedom  of  expression  and  privacy.

“When  we  put  the  rankings  in  perspective,  it’s  clear  there  are  no  winners,”  said  Rebecca  MacKinnon,  director  of Ranking  Digital  Rights.  “Our  hope  is  that  the  Index  will  lead  to  greater  corporate  transparency,  which  can  empower users  to  make  more  informed  decisions  about  how  they  use  technology.”

With the report’s compiler highlighting that there no “winners”, it is clear that the losers are users creating and posting pictures and videos to platforms that are unclear at best about what they can actually do with them.

There was also wide differences in transparency within companies, with Facebook (owner of both Instagram and Whatsapp) found to make better disclosures about its flagship platform and the picture-sharing app than at Whatsapp, which did not always even publish privacy agreements in the right language.

Overall,  Google  ranked  highest  among the eight Internet  companies,  while  the  UK-based  Vodafone  ranked  highest among  telecommunications  companies. The Russian Mail.ru email service ranked the worst with 13 per cent.

The survey also found very low levels of web-based companies that allowed encryption of private content and control access, with the average score across the eight just six per cent.

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