4 ways tech giants can better protect our privacy online

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a non-profit organisation that, among other things, pushes for user protection online. It was founded in 1990, and has used its influence to call for better protection of our data by financing litigation, analysing policies, running grassroots campaigns and participating in tech development.

One of EFF’s latest campaigns is dubbed #FixItAlready, which it runs on a lo-fi website. It’s aimed at getting more tech firms to boost their encryption efforts and better protect user data.

These are some of the ways the organisation says tech giants could better protect our rights and freedoms online.

1. Android should enable users to revoke network access

While Google’s platform allows users to deny various apps specific permissions – such as access to their location, contacts or microphones – it has yet to enable a denial of Internet access. EFF acknowledges that Apple’s iOS also has this loophole (though you can switch off mobile data permission for some apps, but this doesn’t extend to wi-fi), but notes that “we have bigger concerns that Google’s targeted advertising-based business model gives it less incentive to stop creepy tracking”. The organisation wants Google to deny apps permission to the Internet so users aren’t forced to share their data with the creators of the apps they use.

2.  Facebook should leave contact details alone

According to EFF, if you give Facebook your phone number to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) or to get alerts if there’s a new log-in into your account, the firm can pass it on to advertisers within weeks for targeted ads. Additionally, the organisation says, even if you don’t specifically hand over your number, Facebook can still get your contacts from your friends’ phone books, and advertisers can associate the number with your account.

“As Facebook attempts to salvage its reputation among users in the wake of countless scandals … stopping all non-essential uses of 2FA numbers and ‘shadow’ contact data would be a good start,” EFF says.

3. Twitter should better encrypt direct messages

With end-to-end encryption, a message you send remains secret until it’s decoded by its final recipient. It’s something we’ve become familiar with as a result of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. However, Twitter doesn’t enable this with its direct messages, meaning potentially sensitive information would have to be handed over to law enforcement should a warrant be issued. EFF wants Twitter to enable end-to-end encryption to make direct messages safer for users.

4. Slack should be open about holding on to old messages

Slack has become a popular option for small businesses looking to communicate with their teams. However, by default, Slack retains all the messages in a workspace or channel (including direct messages) for as long as the workspace exists. If you pay for the service, though, you can change this default setting and make it shorter. But if you’re using the free option, the platform holds on to all your messages, though you can only view the last 10,000. Slack says it retains all your messages just in case you decide to upgrade to a paid workspace. However, EFF wants users to make the decision on what the platform has to delete, especially once they surpass the 10,000-message limit.