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Top tech titans get thumbs-up in EFF transparency report

The advocacy group says Apple, Facebook, Google, and others have done a lot to protect users' privacy.

Edward Snowden appeared by teleconference at SXSW 2014. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

One of the unanticipated outcomes of the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden is that tech companies are now being more open with their users.

In its annual "Who Has Your Back" transparency report, released Thursday, digital rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation gave many of the tech titans high marks on their privacy and transparency policies. Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Yahoo, Sonic, and Credo Mobile all earned perfect scores.

The goal of EFF's report is to study how the top 26 tech companies use and protect people's data. Some of the most sensitive information, such as conversations, photos, location data, and more, goes through various websites and apps. EFF wants companies to tell users just how they're collecting and using this information and what they're doing to protect people from government data requests.

"The sunlight brought about by a year's worth of Snowden leaks appears to have prompted dozens of companies to improve their policies when it comes to giving user data to the government," EFF activism director Rainey Reitman said in a statement. "Our report charts objectively verifiable categories of how tech companies react when the government seeks user data, so users can make informed decisions about which companies they should trust with their information."

EFF says the results of this year's report are strikingly different from last year. This year, 20 of the 26 companies EFF reviewed published their own transparency reports detailing government requests for user data; whereas last year, only seven companies did. EFF awarded Apple and Yahoo the most improved for tightening their government access policies.

Some companies, however, still received low marks in this year's report. Chief among them is Snapchat. The ephemeral photo- and video-sharing app got only one star because it reportedly doesn't provide users information on the amount of data it gives to law enforcement.

"Snapchat joins AT&T and Comcast in failing to require a warrant for government access to the content of communications," EFF attorney Nate Cardozo said. "That means the government can obtain extraordinarily sensitive information about your activities and communications without convincing a judge that there is probable cause to collect it."

When contacted by CNET, a Snapchat spokesperson said that the company "routinely" requires a search warrant for authorities to see user data.

"Snapchat routinely requires a search warrant when law enforcement requests user data," the spokesperson said. "Of course, the very nature of Snapchat means that we often don't have content to divulge. That's because when our servers detect that a Snap has been opened by all of its recipients, it is deleted from our servers. Snapchatters can always take a screenshot or use other means to save a Snap that they have received."

Despite some companies not yet getting full stars, in its report, EFF called this past year a "watershed year for companies taking a stand for user privacy."

Here's EFF's full list:

Electronic Frontier Foundation