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.