Tech Tips

August 27, 2013

Would an online service provider share your data with a third party? Again, check the Privacy Policy!

Last month we showed that major tech firms can and do share your information with government. What about third parties, like other companies? Privacy policies tell the story. It's better than the government data sharing...but not completely.
Last month's Tech Tip discussed how some online service providers will cooperate with government data collection (e.g., PRISM) if asked. In this issue we’ll ask the second half of the question.

If they cooperate with the government, do they share your data with other businesses too?

We went back to the same major providers as last time – Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Rackspace – and checked their privacy policies regarding third-party data sharing. We found two things:
  1. In general, service providers are less inclined to share your data with third parties than they are with government.
  2. The idea of "Third parties" is not well-defined, leaving the policies open to SOME sharing.
Below we've quoted each provider's policies again, as relates to third-party data sharing. You’ll see in some of these the phrase "companies and organizations" used. This terminology allows for some sharing with non-business entities (like nonprofits or political groups).

Here’s what our 5 major providers had to say about third parties:

"…This includes exchanging information with other companies and organizations for fraud protection and credit risk reduction. Obviously, however, this does not include selling, renting, sharing, or otherwise disclosing personally identifiable information from customers for commercial purposes in violation of the commitments set forth in this Privacy Notice."
Protection of and Others –


"We give your information to the people and companies that help us provide, understand and improve the services we offer. For example, we may use outside vendors to help host our website, serve photos and videos, process payments, analyze data, conduct and publish research, measure the effectiveness of ads, or provide search results…"
Responding to legal requests and preventing harm – Facebook Data Use Policy

Google Docs/Drive
"We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have your consent to do so."
Information We Share (for Legal Reasons) –

Microsoft Office 365

"Microsoft may share or disclose personal information:
  • With other Microsoft controlled subsidiaries and affiliates.
  • As part of a corporate transaction such as a merger or sale of assets.
  • With vendors or agents. Specifically, we may share it with companies we've hired to provide services on our behalf. When we share information with these other companies to provide services for us, they are not allowed to use it for any other purpose and must keep it confidential."
Sharing or Disclosing Personal Information – Privacy Statements

"We may release the information we collect to third parties, where the information is provided to enable such third party to provide services to us, provided that the third party has agreed to use at least the same level of privacy protections described in this Privacy Statement, and is permitted to use the information only for the purpose of providing services to us."
Disclosure of Personal Information – Privacy Statement

Please note: You are always required to accept a service provider's privacy policy before using their software. If they declare their intent to share your data with, say, a political campaign, and you click OK? You have agreed to the sharing.

Read the fine print before you use an online service. And never share anything personal/confidential on a service where you’re not 100% sure it’s safe to!