posts about or somewhat related to ‘ethics’

Imagined Conversations: NFL & Access Journalism Edition

In which we pull together different voices talking about the relationship between reporter and sources, and discover there’s a grudging admiration for the oft-maligned TMZ.

Brian Stelter: Any time the NFL is the story, the networks’ coverage of the story is very closely watched, because ESPN, CBS, NBC, and FOX all have multi-billion-dollar contracts to carry NFL games. Their news divisions have to cover the news, but their parent companies have to protect their investments in football.

Stefan Fatsis: [I]t’s no surprise that NFL-owned media would tiptoe around stories questioning the integrity and credibility of the NFL. The [Ray] Rice case is a reminder of how the nearly $10 billion-a-year NFL’s rise to cultural prominence has allowed it to shape the message transmitted to fans, both through its quasi-journalistic arms and through multibillion-dollar deals with other media.

Kelly McBride: [But] this is a much different story than if the Super Dome was ready for the Super Bowl or even if the NFL is ignoring the data on concussions… This is a story about the culture of the NFL. It’s hard for journalists because they are a part of the NFL culture.

Margaret Sullivan: In some ways, this is the eternal problem of the beat reporter (or specialized writer or critic): When you cover a subject for many years, familiarity can turn into friendship.

Michael Hiltzik: To a certain extent, journalists have always been at risk of becoming “captured” by their sources, or their subjects; it takes a high degree of professional discipline to fight the magnetic tug, and the best journalists make their careers that way. But the closer one is to the center of power, the less inclined one might be to write a report that will get one bounced from the inner circle.

Stefan Fatsis: [B]y hiring veteran reporters at their proprietary websites and cable networks — at higher salaries than those paid by the newspapers and magazines where the reporters formerly worked — the NFL and other pro sports leagues have managed to reduce the amount of critical daily reporting and commentary. That might not be the direct intention, but it’s the result.

Dave McKenna: The chosen few disseminators of football intelligence are multimedia stars today, with gigs in print and online and on TV and radio, and with huge Twitter presences… The NFL need only filter the message of a very few folks to shape the entire national discussion.

Stefan Fatsis: Like Wall Street and other big institutions, the NFL prefers and… facilitates access reporting. It’s good business. The steady flow of information on the ESPN ticker keeps NFL fans engaged with the product and wanting more of it. As far as accountability journalism is concerned, it seems like no coincidence that the Rice story broke thanks to the gatecrashers at TMZ — a bunch of outsiders who have much to gain from knocking pro football down a peg, and are willing to write checks to buy up the sort of photos and videos that tarnish the NFL’s vaunted shield.

Michael Hiltzik: The sports leagues and companies that set up their own news outlets pretend that their only goal is to provide useful information to fans, customers or members of the public who can no longer get it from a fragmented news industry. That’s a scam; powerful entities have always resented having their public statements filtered by skeptical intermediaries in the press — or worse, having their secrets exposed.

David Zurawik: TMZ did the job the mainstream sports media failed to do in showing us the ugliness of this incident.

Amanda Hess: What makes TMZ so effective? Unlike prosecutors (who hedge their bets to ensure they only prosecute people who juries will convict) and league officials (who are invested in selling athletes as heroes), TMZ has an economic imperative to administer uncompromising takedowns. And unlike traditional journalistic outlets, it’s willing to pay for tips, tapes, and documents to back them up.

Mark Mravic: [TMZ] is applying to sports the hardcore tabloid-type approach that has worked so well for them when they are covering celebrities. And there really hasn’t been an outlet that’s been doing that in sports. It shows what can be done when you can actually start digging around and you’re willing to pay a lot of money for things — if that’s exactly how TMZ is getting these clips.

Michael Hiltzik: That’s why outsiders are often responsible for the biggest news breaks. Watergate was initially exposed not by members of the White House press corps, but by a couple of police reporters named Woodward and Bernstein. The Ray Rice video wasn’t acquired and aired by members of the NFL press corps, but by the scandal-mongering upstart TMZ.

Stefan Fatsis: It’s also fair to say, though, that the Rice video has changed how Roger Goodell’s NFL will be covered going forward. The league’s media lapdogs have started barking, and they might not stop until the commissioner is gone.

We have had a hard time thinking clearly about companies like Google and Facebook because we have never before had to deal with companies like Google and Facebook. They are something new in the world, and they don’t fit neatly into our existing legal and cultural templates. Because they operate at such unimaginable magnitude, carrying out millions of informational transactions every second, we’ve tended to think of them as vast, faceless, dispassionate computers — as information-processing machines that exist outside the realm of human intention and control. That’s a misperception, and a dangerous one.

Modern computers and computer networks enable human judgment to be automated, to be exercised on a vast scale and at a breathtaking pace. But it’s still human judgment. Algorithms are constructed by people, and they reflect the interests, biases, and flaws of their makers. As Google’s founders themselves pointed out many years ago, an information aggregator operated for commercial gain will inevitably be compromised and should always be treated with suspicion. That is certainly true of a search engine that mediates our intellectual explorations; it is even more true of a social network that mediates our personal associations and conversations.

Because algorithms impose on us the interests and biases of others, we have not only a right, but also an obligation to carefully examine and, when appropriate, judiciously regulate those algorithms. We have a right and an obligation to understand how we, and our information, are being manipulated. To ignore that responsibility, or to shirk it because it raises hard problems, is to grant a small group of people — the kind of people who carried out the Facebook and OKCupid experiments — the power to play with us at their whim.

Nicholas Carr, Los Angeles Review of Books. The Manipulators: Facebook’s Social Engineering Project.

FJP: For more on tech, media and algorithms, check our Algorithms Tag.

I would love it if transparency truly allayed anxiety in an informed, nonexplosive way,” Mr. Rudder told me. But in practice, he said, “it might increase anxiety.

Natasha Singer (writing in the Times) about Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid and the guy who wrote this, whose new book: Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) just came out.

Singer writes:

Mr. Rudder says he carefully considers the potential risks of OkCupid’s observational and product research on its members. But his dual role as the approver of company research and its chief interpreter is complicated.

“The people who are making the minimal risk decisions are the same people conducting the experiments,” he acknowledges. “It is a conflict of interest.”

Now Mr. Rudder is weighing the possibility of even greater research transparency. His book certainly urges companies to share more of their behavioral research findings with the public. But the outcry over his recent blog post suggests that many consumers are not aware of the extent to which companies already scrutinize and manipulate their online activities.

FJP: While the issues around social manipulation and the need for transparency make themselves pretty apparent, Rudder’s comment, quoted above, points to something perplexing. Maybe greater transparency about both data-gathering practices and interpretations of it (especially on networks where people have social and emotional investments) would increase our anxiety about what the data says about us. It echoes (in sentiment) something Kate Crawford wrote in The New Inquiry in May called The Anxieties of Big Data that’s also really worth reading. In it, she deconstructs the myth that more data means greater accuracy and also points this out: 

If we take these twinned anxieties — those of the surveillers and the surveilled — and push them to their natural extension, we reach an epistemological end point: on one hand, the fear that there can never be enough data, and on the other, the fear that one is standing out in the data.

More Reading: A pretty interesting long-form profile on Rudder. A fantastic essay from danah boyd on ethics and oversight in data manipulation. And, from the FJP archives, a reading list on the social, cultural and political issues/possibilities surrounding big data.

‘Robot’ to write 1 billion stories in 2014 but will you know it when you see it? | Poynter. →

If you’re a human reporter quaking in your boots this week over news of a Los Angeles Times algorithm that wrote the newspaper’s initial story about an earthquake, you might want to cover your ears for this fact:

Software from Automated Insights will generate about 1 billion stories this year — up from 350 million last year, CEO and founder Robbie Allen told Poynter via phone.

FJP: Here’s a ponderable for you.

A few weeks ago, the New York Post reported that Quinton Ross died. Ross, a former Brooklyn Nets basketball player, didn’t know he was dead and soon let people know he was just fine.

"A couple (relatives) already heard it," Ross told the Associated Press. “They were crying. I mean, it was a tough day, man, mostly for my family and friends… My phone was going crazy. I checked Facebook. Finally, I went on the Internet, and they were saying I was dead. I just couldn’t believe it.”

The original reporter on the story? A robot. Specifically, Wikipedia Live Monitor, created by Google engineer Thomas Steiner.

Slate explains how it happened:

Wikipedia Live Monitor is a news bot designed to detect breaking news events. It does this by listening to the velocity and concurrent edits across 287 language versions of Wikipedia. The theory is that if lots of people are editing Wikipedia pages in different languages about the same event and at the same time, then chances are something big and breaking is going on.

At 3:09 p.m. the bot recognized the apparent death of Quinton Ross (the basketball player) as a breaking news event—there had been eight edits by five editors in three languages. The bot sent a tweet. Twelve minutes later, the page’s information was corrected. But the bot remained silent. No correction. It had shared what it thought was breaking news, and that was that. Like any journalist, these bots can make mistakes.

Quick takeaway: Robots, like the humans that program them, are fallible.

Slower, existential takeaway: “How can we instill journalistic ethics in robot reporters?

As Nicholas Diakopoulos explains in Slate, code transparency is an inadequate part of the answer. More important  is understanding what he calls the “tuning criteria,” or the inherent biases, that are used to make editorial decisions when algorithms direct the news.

Read through for his excellent take.

(Source: futurescope, via emergentfutures)

The pro‐life perspective is that if you show a woman that she has an 11‐week‐old fetus and she sees the movement, and that convinces her to keep the fetus, then isn’t that a good thing? Whereas a pro‐choice person would say she didn’t come in and know she was going to get a sonogram; there is no medical reason for it. So why are you offering a sonogram except to convince a woman not to have an abortion, which is what she really wanted to do?

Documentary filmmaker Raney Aronson as quoted in a fascinating case study in journalism ethics (by the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia) called Frontline’s “The Last Abortion Clinic”: What’s Fair in a Video World?

Abstract:

This case takes students behind the scenes into the making of a news documentary for Frontline, produced at the PBS affiliate in Boston (WGBH). The case tells the story of the making of “The Last Abortion Clinic,” a 2005 documentary by producer Raney Aronson and her team. The documentary combined a legal story (developments in the abortion debate since Roe v. Wade) with personal stories—interviews with women in clinics who had confronted the abortion question in their own lives. It focused on the state of Mississippi, which had only one abortion clinic remaining. The case chronicles the evolution of a documentary from idea to finished form. Along the way, it highlights numerous editorial, logistical and ethical decisions Aronson faced in her quest to tell fairly a complex and value-laden story.

Read the PDF here.

We must choose completeness over succinctness when tweeting breaking news, especially if it’s complex breaking news that’s easily misunderstood.

Sam Kirkland, New Orgs Could Have Done a Better Job Tweeting Shutdown NewsPoynter.

Yes, yes and yes. Kirkland points to tweets from large media organizations (USA Today, The AP  and The Wall Street Journal) on September 27, which state that the Senate “passed” a bill to avert the government shutdown. He writes: 

Every editor should know how a bill becomes a law — but no editor should assume every reader does. That’s why some of the breaking news tweets before and during the government shutdown were incomplete and potentially misleading.

He points to large media organizations because the reach of their tweets is enormous.

The real story that day — and every day since, until Wednesday — was what House Republicans would agree to. Democrats in the Senate passing a budget bill meant little if it was dead on arrival in the GOP-led House, as the New York Times’ fantastic ongoing back-and-forth graphic showed throughout the shutdown.

So, the all-caps #BREAKING treatment perhaps made the Senate’s move seem more consequential than it really was, especially with wording that could be misconstrued as indicating the Senate’s vote actually meant the shutdown threat was over. Those three tweets weren’t factually wrong, but responses to them indicated at least some confusion from readers.

FJP: It’s an important point. Read the whole article here. Also, related is a piece we wrote a few months ago on how to following breaking news, particularly on Twitter.

Who am I to Disbelieve Them?
Via Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian.

In other words, if the government tells me I shouldn’t publish something, who am I as a journalist to disobey? Put that on the tombstone of western establishment journalism. It perfectly encapsulates the death spiral of large journalistic outlets…
…The NSA reporting enabled by Snowden’s whistleblowing has triggered a worldwide debate over internet freedom and privacy, reform movements in numerous national legislatures, multiple whistleblowing prizes for Snowden, and the first-ever recognition of just how pervasive and invasive is the system of suspicionless surveillance being built by the US and the UK. It does not surprise me that authoritarian factions, including (especially) establishment journalists, prefer that none of this reporting and debate happened and that we all instead remained blissfully ignorant about it. But it does still surprise me when people calling themselves “journalists” openly admit to thinking this way. But when they do so, they do us a service, as it lays so vividly bare just how wide the gap is between the claimed function of establishment journalists and the actual role they fulfill.

FJP: We’re interested, of course, in what Greenwald’s about to create in his new  $250m backed venture from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
Via The Guardian:

Omidyar said he hopes the project will promote “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following” while using Silicon Valley knowhow to build an audience. “Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement,” Omidyar said. The company will be online only and all proceeds will be reinvested in journalism.

Omidyar writes about his investment here.

Who am I to Disbelieve Them?

Via Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian.

In other words, if the government tells me I shouldn’t publish something, who am I as a journalist to disobey? Put that on the tombstone of western establishment journalism. It perfectly encapsulates the death spiral of large journalistic outlets…

…The NSA reporting enabled by Snowden’s whistleblowing has triggered a worldwide debate over internet freedom and privacy, reform movements in numerous national legislatures, multiple whistleblowing prizes for Snowden, and the first-ever recognition of just how pervasive and invasive is the system of suspicionless surveillance being built by the US and the UK. It does not surprise me that authoritarian factions, including (especially) establishment journalists, prefer that none of this reporting and debate happened and that we all instead remained blissfully ignorant about it. But it does still surprise me when people calling themselves “journalists” openly admit to thinking this way. But when they do so, they do us a service, as it lays so vividly bare just how wide the gap is between the claimed function of establishment journalists and the actual role they fulfill.

FJP: We’re interested, of course, in what Greenwald’s about to create in his new $250m backed venture from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Via The Guardian:

Omidyar said he hopes the project will promote “independent journalists with expertise, and a voice and a following” while using Silicon Valley knowhow to build an audience. “Companies in Silicon Valley invest a lot in understanding their users and what drives user engagement,” Omidyar said. The company will be online only and all proceeds will be reinvested in journalism.

Omidyar writes about his investment here.

Bollywood’s Female Journalists

In a recent article in India Today, Vinayak Chakravorty argues that a new trend in Bollywood is the featuring of female actresses as journalists—a departure from the old days, when the typical journalist-on-screen set-up was a dramatic, male-dominated hero-vs-villain tale. Today, he points out through a series of examples, the on-screen journalist is most often a woman. Directors interviewed for the piece argue that it’s because the movies are inspired by the real women on journalistic frontlines. They reflect reality. What goes unsaid, however, is that until now, most of these portrayals of women have been fairly fluffy. Chakravorty writes:

What goes unsaid is the idea adds to the glam quotient. While the hero is busy saving the world, he needs an emotional prop. Plus, an account of drama seen through the female eye can be more analytical.

If the war correspondent in Madras Cafe managed to be in sync with the brutal reality the film exposed, she was still playing second fiddle to the hero, as is the case with most such depictions.

The article does point out that this stereotype is slowly beginning to change, or at least, directors are willing to be cognizant of it, and be careful to craft intelligent portrayals of the female journalist, attempting to give them strong roles above and beyond the typical female love interest for an on-screen hero.

In a post on Brown Girl, the South Asian American magazine for young women, Antara Mason appreciates this transformation:

This more realistic view of girls in the workforce is fantastic. In a post-Delhi Rape Case India, this change could not come sooner. We need to see more strong women on screen, not to mention more respect for journalism on screen. Apart from that, the more women are seen being taken professionally and seriously on screen, the more respect they will earn in the real world because of the effect media has on society.

FJP: Here’s a thought. I haven’t seen enough Bollywood journalista films to know how this evolving portrayal of women journalists actually plays out, but simply presenting women in strong and independent leading roles seems like a solution that is driven by the same impulse that created the glam-doll phenomenon in the first place. In my mind, female-journalist-as-heroine is in danger of being just as one-dimensional as female-journalist-as-love-interest, especially if the parameters of heroism are of typical Bollywood-style: dramatic, and based on a very simple definition of power: victory. 

If, however, the strength of female journalists is portrayed in a nuanced manner, one that takes into account the realities of being a female journalist in India’s rapidly evolving professional universe, movies can have an incredibly powerful impact. Here’s an example: some weeks ago, the Times published this piece on the evolution of journalism in India and the precarious situations women journalists find themselves in on account of being women in male-centric society. It’s a fear of harassment that is valid, that media organizations need to acknowledge, and women ought to speak about without shame, argues, Ashima Narain, photo editor of National Geographic Traveler. It sounds like Bollywood has a chance to cast light on such realities: the fear, and the courage to speak about it and overcome it, which in turn could re-cast heroism as something more powerful and more nuanced than good-guy (or girl) beating bad-guy.—Jihii

I try not to downplay the fact that in science we use animal models and a lot of times they are killed. As scientists, we do this all the time, but it happens behind closed doors.

Greg Gage, co-founder of an educational company called Backyard Brains, to Wired, about RoboRoach #12, a kit the company is shipping that attaches microelectronics to cockroaches that controls their physical behavior. Wired, Cyborg Cockroach Company Sparks Ethics Debate.

Via Wired:

RoboRoach #12 and its brethren are billed as a do-it-yourself neuroscience experiment that allows students to create their own “cyborg” insects. The roach was the main feature of the TEDx talk by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo, co-founders of an educational company called Backyard Brains. After a summer Kickstarter campaign raised enough money to let them hone their insect creation, the pair used the Detroit presentation to show it off and announce that starting in November, the company will, for $99, begin shipping live cockroaches across the nation, accompanied by a microelectronic hardware and surgical kits geared toward students as young as 10 years old…

…Gage and Marzullo, both trained as neuroscientists and engineers, say that the purpose of the project is to spur a “neuro-revolution” by inspiring more kids to join the fields when they grow up, but some critics say the project is sending the wrong message. “They encourage amateurs to operate invasively on living organisms” and “encourage thinking of complex living organisms as mere machines or tools,” says Michael Allen Fox, a professor of philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.

Earlier this week Krissy posted about these Bluetooth-Controlled Cyborg Cockroaches. Reading through the reblogs I noticed a lot of comments such as this, “As a scientist, I find this fascinating and clever. As a mere human who reads too many books, I find it terrifying at the same time.”

Evidently, Protoculture Phantasm isn’t alone in their sentiments — Michael.

Behind the Scenes of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Arrest
A Massachusetts police photographer upset with the glamorization of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the current edition of Rolling Stone released behind the scenes images of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation and arrest of the suspect.
In a statement to Boston Magazine, Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, wrote:

Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

According to the BBC, the photo release was unauthorized and Murphy is currently under investigation. John Wolfson, the author of the Boston Magazine article that displays the photos, tweeted that Murphy has been “relieved of duty.”
Image: A sniper trains his gun on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. One of a series of photographs released by Sean Murphy to Boston Magazine. Select to embiggen.

Behind the Scenes of the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Arrest

A Massachusetts police photographer upset with the glamorization of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of the current edition of Rolling Stone released behind the scenes images of the Boston Marathon bombing investigation and arrest of the suspect.

In a statement to Boston Magazine, Sgt. Sean Murphy, a tactical photographer with the Massachusetts State Police, wrote:

Photography is very simple, it’s very basic. It brings us back to the cave. An image like this on the cover of Rolling Stone, we see it instantly as being wrong. What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

According to the BBC, the photo release was unauthorized and Murphy is currently under investigation. John Wolfson, the author of the Boston Magazine article that displays the photos, tweeted that Murphy has been “relieved of duty.”

Image: A sniper trains his gun on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. One of a series of photographs released by Sean Murphy to Boston Magazine. Select to embiggen.

All journalism is advocacy journalism. No matter how it’s presented, every report by every reporter advances someone’s point of view. The advocacy can be hidden, as it is in the monotone narration of a news anchor for a big network like CBS or NBC (where the biases of advertisers and corporate backers like GE are disguised in a thousand subtle ways), or it can be out in the open, as it proudly is with Greenwald, or graspingly with Sorkin, or institutionally with a company like Fox.

But to pretend there’s such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. “Objectivity” is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that’s all it is, striving.

— Matt Taibbi, Hey MSM, All Journalism is Advocacy Journalism, Rolling Stone.

Spongebob Learns a Lesson in Journalism Ethics
Well this might be the best episode of Spongebob Squarepants ever. You can watch the whole thing here.
If you don’t, here’s the spoiler version:
Mr. Krabs starts his own newspaper, The Krabby Kronicle, and makes Spongebob a reporter. But Mr. Krabs wants some embellishment in the stories. He says:

SpongeBob, what’s the meaning of this? ‘LOCAL RESIDENT WATCHES POLE’? No one’s going to pay to read this malarky. When you write these stories, you’ve got to use a little imagination, boy. Maybe instead of “Man Watches Pole,” you could say something like, “Man Marries Pole.” Then you could alter the photo a little to fit the headline…

After which Spongebob’s readers get angry at his yellow journalism and he ends up teaching his publisher a lesson.
Image: Screenshot from the episode.
H/T: Romenesko for the find.

Spongebob Learns a Lesson in Journalism Ethics

Well this might be the best episode of Spongebob Squarepants ever. You can watch the whole thing here.

If you don’t, here’s the spoiler version:

Mr. Krabs starts his own newspaper, The Krabby Kronicle, and makes Spongebob a reporter. But Mr. Krabs wants some embellishment in the stories. He says:

SpongeBob, what’s the meaning of this? ‘LOCAL RESIDENT WATCHES POLE’? No one’s going to pay to read this malarky. When you write these stories, you’ve got to use a little imagination, boy. Maybe instead of “Man Watches Pole,” you could say something like, “Man Marries Pole.” Then you could alter the photo a little to fit the headline…

After which Spongebob’s readers get angry at his yellow journalism and he ends up teaching his publisher a lesson.

Image: Screenshot from the episode.

H/T: Romenesko for the find.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.

A new entry in The New York Times’ stylebook on “illegal immigrant”.

Background:

On Tuesday afternoon, a group of advocates against the use of the term “illegal immigrant” gathered outside The New York Times building in Times Square to deliver a petition of protest. Organizers said the petition, which asked the paper to stop using the phrase contained more than 70,000 signatures collected online.

And here is the new entry, (by way of Poynter, if you’re looking for context):

illegal immigrant may be used to describe someone who enters, lives in or works in the United States without proper legal authorization. But be aware that in the debate over immigration, some people view it as loaded or offensive. Without taking sides or resorting to euphemism, consider alternatives when appropriate to explain the specific circumstances of the person in question, or to focus on actions: who crossed the border illegallywho overstayed a visawho is not authorized to work in this country.

Unauthorized is also an acceptable description, though it has a bureaucratic tone. Undocumented is the term preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations. Illegal immigration, because it describes the issue rather than an individual, is less likely thanillegal immigrant to be seen as troubling.

Take particular care in describing people whose immigration status is complex or subject to change – for example, young people brought to this country as children, many of whom are eligible for temporary reprieves from deportation under federal policies adopted in 2012.

Do not use illegal as a noun, and avoid the sinister-sounding alien.

When the Government Comes Knocking, Who Has Your Back?

Hat tip to Josh Stearns for making us aware of this 2012 report.

Via the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

When you use the Internet, you entrust your online conversations, thoughts, experiences, locations, photos, and more to companies like Google, AT&T and Facebook. But what happens when the government demands that these companies to hand over your private information? Will the company stand with you? Will it tell you that the government is looking for your data so that you can take steps to protect yourself?

The Electronic Frontier Foundation examined the policies of 18 major Internet companies — including email providers, ISPs, cloud storage providers, and social networking sites — to assess whether they publicly commit to standing with users when the government seeks access to user data. We looked at their terms of service, privacy policies, and published law enforcement guides, if any. We also examined their track record of fighting for user privacy in the courts and whether they’re members of the Digital Due Process coalition, which works to improve outdated communications law. Finally, we contacted each of the companies with our conclusions and gave them an opportunity to respond and provide us evidence of improved policies and practices. These categories are not the only ways that a company can stand up for users, of course, but they are important and publicly verifiable.

While some Internet companies have stepped up for users in particular situations, it’s time for all companies that hold private user data to make public commitments to defend their users against government overreach. The purpose of this report is to incentivize companies to be transparent about what data flows to the government and encourage them to take a stand for user privacy when it is possible to do so.

Read through for the report’s findings.