The report evaluating policies at 13 Spanish Internet companies also indicates that a handful are taking seriously their obligations under the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union’s data privacy law that sets tough standards for protecting customers’ private information and gives users more information about and control over their private data. The law went into effect in December 2018.
But the good news for most of the companies pretty much stops there. All but the largest Internet providers in Spain are seriously lagging when it comes to transparency around government demands for user data, according to the Eticas report released today.
While Orange commits to notify users about government requests and both Vodafone and Telefónica clearly state the need for a court order before handing users’ communications to authorities, other featured companies have much to improve. They are failing to provide information about how they handle law enforcement requests for user data, whether they require judicial authorization before giving personal information to police, or if they notify users as soon as legally possible that their data was released to law enforcement. The lack of disclosure about their practices leaves an open question about whether they have users’ backs when the government wants personal data.
The format of the Eticas report is based on EFF’s Who Has Your Back project, which was launched nine years ago to shine a light on how well U.S. companies protect user data, especially when the government wants it. Since then the project has expanded internationally, with leading digital rights groups in Europe and the Americas evaluating data privacy practices of Internet companies so that users can make informed choices about to whom they should trust their data. Eticas Foundation first evaluated Spain’s leading providers in 2018 as part of a region-wide initiative focusing on Internet privacy policies and practices in Iberoamerica.
In today’s report, Eticas evaluated 13 companies, including six telecom providers (Orange, Ono-Vodafone, Telefónica-Movistar, MásMóvil, Euskatel, and Somos Conexión), five home sales and rental apps (Fotocasa, Idealista, Habitaclia, Pisos.com, and YaEncontré), and two apps for selling second hand goods (Vibbo and Wallapop). The companies were assessed against a set of criteria covering policies for data collection, handing data over to law enforcement agencies, notifying customers about government data requests, publishing transparency reports, and promoting user privacy. Companies were awarded stars based on their practices and conduct. In light of the adoption of the GDPR, this year’s report assessed companies against several new criteria, including providing information on how to contact a company data protection officer, using private data to automate decision making without human involvement and build user profiles, and practices regarding international data transfers. Etica also looked at whether they provide guidelines, tailored to local law, for law enforcement seeking user data.
The full study is available in Spanish, and we outline the main findings below.
An Overview of Companies' Commitments and Shortcomings
Telefonica-Movistar, Spain’s largest mobile phone company, was the most highly rated, earning stars in 10 out of 13 categories. Vodafone was a close second, with nine stars. There was a big improvement overall in companies providing information about how long they keep user data—all 13 companies reported doing so this year, compared to only three companies earning partial credit in 2018. The implementation of the GDPR has had a positive effect on privacy policies at only some companies, the report shows. While most companies are providing contact information for data protection officials, only four—Movistar, Fotocasa, Habitaclia, and Vibbo—provide information about their practices for using data-based, nonhuman decision making, and profiling, and six—Vodafone, MásMóvil, Pisos.com, Idealista, Yaencontré, and Wallapop—provide information only about profiling.
Only Telefónica-Movistar and Vodafone disclose information to users about its policies for giving personal data to law enforcement agencies. Telefonica-Movistar is vague in its data protection policy, only stating that it will hand user data to police in accordance with the law. However, the company’s transparency report shows that it lets police intercept communications only with a court order or in emergency situations. For metadata, the information provided is generic: it only mentions the legal framework and the authorities entitled to request it (judges, prosecutors, and the police).
Orange Spain is the only company that says it’s committed to telling users when their data is released to law enforcement unless there’s a legal prohibition against it. Because the company didn’t make clear it will do so as soon as there's no legal barrier, it received partial credit. Euskatel and Somos Conexión, smaller ISPs, have stood out in promoting user privacy through campaigns or defending users in courts. On the latter, Euskatel has challenged a judicial order demanding the company reveal IP addresses in a commercial claim. After finally handing them over once the sentence was confirmed by a higher court, Euskatel filed a complaint with the Spanish data protection authority for possible violation of purpose limitation safeguards considering how the claimant used the data.
The report shows that, in general, the five home apps (Fotocasa, Idealista, Habitaclia, Pisos.com, and YaEncontré) and two second-hand goods sales apps (Vibbo and Wallapop) have to step up their privacy information game considerably. They received no stars in fully nine out of the 13 categories evaluated. This should give users pause and, in turn, motivate these companies to increase transparency about their data privacy practices so that the next time they are asked if they protect customers’ personal data, they have more to show.
Through ¿Quien Defiende Tus Datos? reports, local organizations in collaboration with EFF have been comparing companies' commitments to transparency and users' privacy in different Latin American countries and Spain. Earlier this year, Fundación Karisma in Colombia, ADC in Argentina, and TEDIC in Paraguay published new reports. New editions in Panamá, Peru, and Brazil are also on their way to spot which companies stand with their users and those that fall short of doing so.