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AT&T and WhatsApp stung with lowest scores in EFF's data safety report

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Annual report rates tech companies on how they protect user data from government requests

Dropbox, Apple, and Yahoo are among the companies given top marks in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) annual report on data collection practices, while WhatsApp and AT&T received joint-lowest scores. The EFF's "Who Has Your Back?" report awards tech companies stars based on how they handle government requests for data. The EFF's five criteria for companies include informing users about government requests before the data is handed over; publicly disclosing how long they record information that isn't accessible to the user; and reporting how often governments seek the removal of user content or accounts.

Large telecoms are among the worst at protecting data from requests

The data safety report, now in its fifth year, awarded full marks to nine companies, including Adobe, Wikimedia, Wordpress, and those mentioned above. The EFF notes that two major telecoms — AT&T and Verizon — received particularly poor scores, continuing a trend in which "large telecom providers fail to keep pace with the rest of the tech sector." AT&T earned only a single star for adopting industry-accepted best practices (these include requiring a warrant before handing over user data), while Verizon managed two stars (for adopting best practices and for disclosing the number of times governments seek the removal of user content or accounts).

Despite these low points, most major companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Tumblr, Google, and Snapchat, earned middle-of-the-road scores of three stars, and all the firms (apart from WhatsApp) met industry-accepted best practices. This last point is particularly notable, as when the EFF began rating companies in 2011, these best practices were all separate criteria. In that first report, the companies were nearly all rated poorly, with one star the most common score. Post-Snowden however, customers are more demanding about data protection, and, as the EFF points out, "more and more companies are voluntarily speaking out about government data requests and giving users tools to fight back." Perhaps in the future, checking the star rating for a tech company's data practices will be as commonplace as checking the safety rating for a new car.