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Shock horror: Google given 100% rating for user data protection

It may seem as though Google feels the sharp end of many tongues - be it about problems with Glass, for shaping the content of the internet, or the way it handles advertising. But more often than not, the big G finds itself on the receiving end of criticism for being in bed with the NSA for the way it handles user privacy. In spite of all of the ammunition unleashed in Google's direction, the company has - incredibly - been awarded a full six stars out of six by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for protecting user data from government requests.

The EFF's Who Has Your Back? report ranks and rates the performance of some of the biggest names in the world of tech for handling user privacy in the face of government data requests. Finding ourselves in a world now tainted by the activities of the NSA, privacy and accountability have become more important to internet users than ever before.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation prides itself on "defending your rights in the digital world", and its annual report looks at the performance and promises of 26 companies who handle your data.

EFF Activism Director, Rainey Reitman, says: "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. 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".

Exploring "trends in government access requests", the report aims to provide internet users with the information needed to decide who to trust with their data.

It might come as a surprise to find that Google is awarded a 100 percent rating, being awarded a star in each of the six categories the report looks at: requires a warrant for content, tells users about government data requests, publishes transparency reports, publishes law enforcement guidelines, fights for users' privacy rights in courts, and fights for users' privacy rights in Congress. If the criteria for the last category is not immediately obvious, EFF specifies that "tech companies earn credit in this category by taking a public policy position opposing mass surveillance".

Google is one of nine companies that earns six stars - alongside Apple, CREDO Mobile, Dropbox (yes), Facebook, Microsoft, Sonic, Twitter, and Yahoo - and several others fared well, missing out on a full constellation of stars merely by virtue of not having been involved in court cases.

Google is praised for making the language of its user policies clearer, as well as for being the first of the big names to publish a privacy report. The rating is an improvement on last year's performance which saw it missing out on one of the stars for failing to report fully about government data requests.

One star comes from a Google privacy policy: "If Google receives ECPA legal process for a user's account, it's our policy to notify the user via email before any information is disclosed.

This gives the user an opportunity to file an objection with a court or the requesting party. If the request appears to be legally valid, we will take steps to preserve the requested information before we notify the user". The policy is in place at the moment, but is due to be officially published in July. Praise also comes thanks to the fact that Google is a member of the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition, a group looking to limit government surveillance.

You can read through the full report on the EFF website, and it would be interesting to hear what you make of it. Do the likes of Google do enough to protect user data from government probing? Do the findings of the report fit in with your experience of Google?