How Do Google, Apple and Others Stack Up When it Comes to Protecting Your Privacy?

A new study explores the state of tech industry transparency around the world.
How Do Google, Apple and Others Stack Up When it Comes to Protecting Your Privacy?
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Tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google know a lot about us. They have data on where we are in the world, what we search, share and buy and how and when we make those purchases.  

Ranking Digital Rights, a nonprofit research group that works out of nonpartisan think tank New America’s Open Technology Institute, released its annual study yesterday looking at how the biggest tech companies around the world fare when it comes protecting freedom of expression and how transparent they are about privacy policies and what they do with user information.

The answer, having ranked 12 mobile and internet companies and 10 telecommunication firms that are used by more than half of 3.7 billion global internet users, is that they could do better.

Related: Senate Votes to Reverse FCC Consumer Internet Privacy Rules

“Company disclosure is inadequate across the board. … Even the better performing companies had significant gaps in disclosure on key issues that affect what a user can and cannot say or do, or who knows what about their activities,” noted the Ranking Digital Rights researchers.

Google was awarded the top spot with a score of 65 percent and Microsoft came in second at 62 percent, but they were the only companies in the index that had scores higher than 60 percent. Rounding out the top five was Yahoo, which has had its share of security breaches lately, at 58 percent, Facebook at 53 percent and South Korean social giant Kakao at 50 percent.

Related: We Scored High on This Cybersecurity Quiz. How About You?

Twitter and Apple were ranked sixth and seventh out of 12, but while Twitter is close behind Kakao at 48 percent, Apple’s score dropped to 35 percent.

The reasoning behind Apple’s less than stellar score, according to the researchers, was because “poor disclosure about the company's commitments and policies affecting users' freedom of expression. Next to its peers, Apple also disclosed little information about how it has institutionalized its commitments to users' rights through corporate governance, oversight, and accountability mechanisms.”

As for the realm of telecommunications, AT&T and U.K.-based Vodafone tied for first place with scores of 48 percent, followed by Spain’s Telefónica at 33 percent. Vodafone was better when it came to sharing with its users its policies around freedom of expression while AT&T was more upfront about user privacy. Meanwhile, Telefónica was actually the most successful of all of the companies ranked when it came to disclosing to users how it handled security breaches.

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