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WhatsApp ranked worst for users' data privacy in Electronic Frontier Foundation's internet snooping report

Published 18/06/2015

WhatsApp has announced a new company record for handling instant messages (AP)
WhatsApp has announced a new company record for handling instant messages (AP)

People who are concerned about the government prying into their data should stay away from WhatsApp, Google and Microsoft, according to a new report from privacy campaigners.

A new report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called ‘Who Has Your Back?’, has ranked the biggest technology companies on how transparent and protective they are of users’ data. The report has been running since 2011 and has expanded over the years, as well as dropping companies like MySpace.

WhatsApp was criticised on almost every measure, and received the joint worst ranking with AT&T.

The chat app is owned by Facebook but was rated separately from it — the parent social network got approval on every criteria apart from its policy on disclosing when governments ask for content to be taken off the site.

It is WhatsApp’s first year being included in the report. “Although EFF gave the company a full year to prepare for its inclusion in the report, it has adopted none of the best practices we’ve identified as part of this report”, the foundation said.

Apple was one of only a few companies that received approvals on all five of the foundation’s criteria. Companies including Dropbox, Adobe, Wikimedia, WordPress and Yahoo also scored full marks.

The report ranks technology companies on five criteria: whether they follow best practices for data security, whether the company tells users when the government demands their data, whether they are open about their policies on data retention, whether they disclose when government asks for content to be removed, and whether they publicly oppose backdoors that let the government get easy access to data.

Some companies such as WhatsApp and Snapchat were not ranked on the content removal requests section, because they either don’t host content in a relevant way or because as direct messaging apps it is not available for all to see.

The foundation said that those criteria have changed over time — and that while 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”.

The new criteria include the recommendation that companies should tell their users when the government asks for their data, as soon as possible and preferably before it is used.

The company said that it hopes this report has a similar effect, pushing technology companies to introduce the measures that they have been ranked badly for.

Users' privacy is becoming an increasingly fraught issue, particularly among big tech companies like Google and Apple. Earlier this month, Tim Cook seemed to criticise Google and Facebook for their attitude towards users' data.

Independent

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