Verizon already has a significant task on its plate in integrating Yahoo with its AOL business. But in the wake of recent revelations surrounding the troubled Internet giant, one advocacy group is asking Verizon to add one more item to its checklist: increase safeguards for consumer privacy and security.
Digital rights group Access Now on Wednesday sent a letter to Verizon General Counsel Craig Silliman asking the carrier to conduct its due diligence with an eye to the “privacy and security risks and safeguards needed to protect Yahoo! and Verizon users.”
The group’s request comes in the wake of back-to-back revelations that a breach of Yahoo’s email system exposed the sensitive information of more than 500 million users and, separately, that Yahoo cooperated with government requests to scan customer emails for intelligence purposes. It is the latter of the two reports Access Now focused on in its address.
“Verizon has defended its ‘long history of standing up for the privacy rights’ of its customers , and we expect it to now take steps to uphold that value,” the group wrote. “For example, Verizon has released regular transparency reports on government request for user data and has issued a ‘Human Rights Statement’ noting its respect for human rights principles. But it must do more in preparation for its acquisition of a global internet platform.”
Access Now said Yahoo, too, previously appeared to be a human right pioneer, but noted the recent surveillance reports raised “important questions about its continued commitment” to users. In consenting to spy on customer email accounts, Access Now said the Internet giant “showed indifference to its users’ right to privacy and the principles Yahoo! Espouses.”
The group said it hopes Verizon will be more true to its word.
“As Verizon finalizes its acquisition of Yahoo!, we encourage you to continue to investigate the details behind Yahoo!’s complicity with the U.S. government’s broad request, and affirm that, under Verizon’s ownership, Yahoo! will not only maintain, but strengthen its commitment to human rights protections,” the group wrote.
To help Verizon stay on the right track, Access Now suggested a number of steps the carrier can take to safeguard user rights. Those steps include ensuring proper consultation with internal and external structures – like the Global Network Initiative – to review humans rights requests; publicly reaffirming its commitment to transparency reporting; implementing strong and proactive digital security measures like encryption; and increasing engagement in discussions around user rights.
Verizon on Wednesday said it has an “on-going and constructive engagement with Access Now and will review their recommendations and consider them carefully.”
The letter comes as Verizon executives consider how to move forward with the Yahoo transaction in light of the damaging reports.
Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam earlier this week indicated the carrier believes the acquisition “still makes a lot of sense.” McAdam said Verizon is still working to determine whether the revelations represent a “material impact” to the business, but dismissed reports the carrier would seek a price discount as “total speculation.”
In his remarks, McAdam said he wasn’t surprise by the hack – saying a breach is inevitable in today’s internet environment. He also said, however, that a hack is “certainly not anything we wanted to have happen” and noted the carrier is doing “everything we can to fortify ourselves.”