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These Companies Are ‘Falling Short’ on User Privacy

Four major telecommunications companies—AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon—are "falling short" on user privacy, according to a new report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"When it comes to adopting policies that prioritize user privacy over facilitating government data demands, the telecom industry for the most part has erred on the side of prioritizing government requests," the nonprofit digital rights group wrote in its seventh annual "Who Has Your Back" report, released Monday. The report rates companies on how they deal with government requests for user data.

EFF evaluated the public policies of 26 companies — everyone from Adobe to Yahoo and all the big names in between — and awarded credit in five categories. Stars were doled out to companies for: following industry-wide best practices around government data requests; being transparent about the requests they receive; promising not to sell out their users; standing up to National Security Letter gag orders; and supporting reforms to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, a provision of law the EFF calls the "legal lynchpin for the NSA's mass internet surveillance."

On a positive note, every company the EFF evaluated "has adopted baseline industry best practices, such as publishing a transparency report and requiring a warrant before releasing user content to the government," the organization wrote. Nine companies earned stars in all five categories the EFF evaluated: Adobe, Credo, Dropbox, Lyft, Pinterest, Sonic, Uber, Wickr, and WordPress.

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On the other end of the spectrum, AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon were the four lowest performing companies, earning just one star each. The EFF said these companies "still need to commit to informing users before disclosing their data to the government and creating a public policy of requesting judicial review of all NSLs."

Meanwhile, Amazon and Facebook-owned WhatsApp didn't score much better, earning just two stars each. The EFF praised WhatsApp's move to adopt end-to-end encryption by default and Amazon's customer service, but said both companies' privacy policies could use some work.

"The tech industry as a whole has moved toward providing its users with more transparency, but telecommunications companies—which serve as the pipeline for communications and Internet service for millions of Americans—are failing to publicly push back against government overreach," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo said in a statement. "Both legacy telcos and the giants of Silicon Valley can and must do better. We expect companies to protect, not exploit, the data we have entrusted them with."

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Google Play Movies & TV becomes a one-stop shop for everything that streams

With the explosion of streaming services now available, it’s becoming more difficult to figure out not just what movie or TV show to watch next, but where you can actually watch it. Google today is rolling out its solution to this problem with a significant revamp of its Google Play Movies & TV app and an update to the Google Play Store itself that will show you which streaming services have the content available, in addition to whether it’s available for rent or purchase, as before. The end result is something that’s similar to Apple’s own TV app, which combines users’ own library of movies and TV with the ability to seek out what’s trending and available in the world of online video. In the updated Google Play Movies & TV app, you’ll now find three tabs in the new bottom navigation bar which will direct you to your Home, Library or your Watchlist. The watchlist is a feature the app recently gained as well, but now it has a much more prominent position. As you browse through the app, you can click on titles to read more about them, as before, but now you’re also able to see where the item can be streamed. At launch, Google is working with 28 streaming services whose content libraries are now integrated in Google Play Movies & TV. That’s fewer than Apple’s TV app supports, which is currently over 60. But it will find content even if it’s an exclusive to the streaming provider, and not necessarily something Google has for rent or sale. That means you can find original programming – like Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” – and then start watching it on the streaming service that hosts it. “We deeplink right into playback for that [third-party streaming] app,” explains Ben Serridge, the product manager for the Movies & TV app at Google. “So if I wanted to start watching ‘The Good Doctor’ pilot, I press the play button and it goes into the ABC app and start playback.” Beyond the big names, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, the app also pulls in content from ABC, CBS, FOX NOW, NBC, HBO NOW, HBO Go, Showtime, Showtime Anytime, Max Go, Starz, Disney Now, HGTV, BET Now, Comedy Central, A&E, Cooking Channel, Crackle, DIY Network, Food Network, History, Lifetime, MTV, The CW, Travel Channel, Tubi TV and VH1. Notably missing is Netflix, whose content is searchable in Apple’s TV app. Serridge didn’t explain why it’s missing, saying only that “we would very much like to have all the apps that distribute this kind of content on Play participating” – effectively tossing the ball back to Netflix’s court. Even without Netflix, the feature is useful if not comprehensive. It will show you the services hosting the content, whether it’s freely available to stream, if you need a subscription (as with HBO Now), the associated costs, or if you need to login with pay TV credentials to watch. This is especially helpful because some of the network TV apps offer a teaser of a show with a few free episodes, but not complete seasons. The Google Play Movies & TV app will help you track down the rest elsewhere, if need be. The app will also now help you narrow down searches thanks to a robust filtering system that lets you click on tags by genre, mood, decade, and more. For example, you could click on “Family,” “Drama,” Award winning,” Highly rated,” Comedy,” and other filters. In addition to helping you find content, stream it, or add it to your Watchlist, the app includes personalized recommendations. These will be partly based on items you’ve previously watched, but you can also explicitly signal your interest or distste as well, by clicking on the thumbs up or thumbs down button. The thumbs down will remove the item from your suggestions entirely. Outside the app itself, the Play Store is being updated to show you the same information about content availability. Solutions like the new Google Play Movies & TV app and Apple’s TV app are handy in the cord cutting era where content is spread out across networks, services, and other over-the-top offerings. But even these apps aren’t enough. Not only is Netflix missing from Google’s app, so is its own YouTube original content – and that’s the same company! Also not addressed by either Apple or Google’s app are which shows may be available to stream or record via live TV services like YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. (Although, to be fair, that’s not only a different set of services, it’s also a much larger challenge given that broadcast network availability varies by market. A dedicated solution like Suppose.tv or Fomopop’s live TV finder may work better.) Meanwhile, there are other tools for finding and tracking favorite shows, like Reelgood or TV Time (or a jailbroken Fire TV stick we should admit), but they don’t have the the benefit of matching content from a rent-and-buy marketplace like Google Play, or being available across phone, tablet, and desktop web, like Google Play. Google says the new features will roll out to Android phones and tablets in the U.S. over the next few days.

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