Yahoo Tries to Shift the Blame in Transparency Report

Months after the breach of 500 million accounts and reports of email scanning for U.S. intelligence, Yahoo took the opportunity to make something clear: They won’t hide that they’re working with the government. And they’re saying it’s the U.S. government’s turn to come clean.

The digital platform released a statement, that has been called “tonedeaf fluff” by Engadget, with their sixth update to their transparency report October 27th. The report outlines the number of government data and deletion requests from January to July, broken down by country. They even have a specific page for United States requests, breaking them down by type and explaining what they can and cannot legally disclose.

Transparency Report Update

By Ron Bell, General CounselYahoo’s commitment to share information with our users regarding government data requests and government requests for content removal through our transparency report is an important part of our long-standing commitment to transparency, privacy, and free expression. Today, we release the sixth update to Yahoo’s transparency report.

The accompanying post clarifies some of Yahoo’s techniques for sharing information with the government, how some numbers are or are not counted, or what numbers will be disclosed at a later point.

The post on their policy blog quickly emphasizes the point that Yahoo has “long advocated and fought for increased transparency by governments,” as they link to a letter they submitted to The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. The letter is in response to a Reuters report that claimed Yahoo was scanning users’ emails at the behest of U.S. intelligence.

In addition to their scandals, this report is coming after Verizon threatened to renegotiate the $4.8 billion deal to buy the company in the aftermath of the hacking and scanning reports. While they’ve been releasing reports for each six month period since January 2013, the need to clarify their privacy policies and shift the attention to the government is coming out now that they risk losing money.

To be fair, Yahoo isn’t alone in wanting the government to take a stronger stance on privacy. Currently, according to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Americans feel that privacy protection laws are not strong enough when it comes to the government accumulating data.

However, they still may have been pushing the limits of their users’ privacy. Allegedly, top members of the company, like CEO Marissa Mayer and General Counsel Ron Bell, created and implemented software to scan through accounts without notifying their security team. Reportedly, the team believed hackers were initially the source of the program.

This runs contrary to the highly publicized fight between the FBI and Apple over unlocking the San Bernardino gunman’s phone, and the case brought against the government by Microsoft. Both companies fought against government intrusion into private citizen’s technological privacy, Microsoft specifically fighting against gag orders to keep companies from informing their users of certain government information requests.

Microsoft’s founder, Bill Gates, expressed how he agrees with the company’s fight against these gag orders for being unconstitutional, without being an absolutist. According to Reuters, he said, “the position Microsoft is taking in this suit is that it should be extraordinary and it shouldn’t be a matter of course that there is a gag order automatically put in.”

In a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union, staff attorney Patrick Toomey expressed his disappointment for Yahoo not putting up the same fight if the allegations are true.

“It is deeply disappointing that Yahoo declined to challenge this sweeping surveillance order, because customers are counting on technology companies to stand up to novel spying demands in court,” Toomey said.

As scandal after scandal emerges for Yahoo, the transparency update and statement create more concern for users struggling to retain any level of confidence over their online privacy.

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