On 3 November 2015, Ranking Digital Rights published its inaugural report examining corporate practices around freedom of expression and privacy. The LSE Media Policy Project presents a round-up of perspectives on the RDR’s Corporate Accountability Index. A panel discussion on The Business of Human Rights: Measuring Transparency in the ICT Sector will take place on 19 November at the LSE’s Thai Theatre.
No, you haven’t – they were long, complex, tedious, and designed for lawyers – but, thankfully, Ranking Digital Rights have done it for you.
On 3 November, Ranking Digital Rights launched a global ranking for ICT companies on digital free expression and privacy: the 2015 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index evaluates the world’s most powerful internet and telecommunications companies’ effect on freedom of expression and privacy.
With numerous cases emerging, from Yahoo and AT&T to Instagram, online rights continue to fall prey to censorship, data breaches, and communications interception, to name only a few of the threats posed in the digital sphere.
Digital companies, from telecommunications companies to social networking platforms, exert a powerful influence over the online and offline lives of people across the globe. It’s an influence which is perpetually expanding and establishing itself in new areas. These companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, yet, as Ranking Digital Rights’ Director, Rebecca MacKinnon says, “If this was a test, nearly everyone failed.”
The Ranking Digital Rights Index has found that many of the world’s most powerful internet and telecommunications companies fail to disclose key information about practices affecting human rights.
Despite some positive findings, including an increase in transparency reporting, the index has highlighted a need for significant, systematic, and sector-wide improvement.
The research found:
- Disclosure about collection, use, sharing, and retention of user information is generally poor;
- Disclosure about private and self-regulatory processes is minimal and ambiguous at best, and often non-existent;
- Nearly 50% of companies in the Index scored less than 25 percent, showing a serious lack of respect for freedom of expression and privacy;
- Social media titans Twitter and Facebook scored a paltry 58% and 35% respectively regarding freedom of expression.
Google ranked highest among internet companies, while the UK’s Vodafone ranked highest among telecommunications companies. This said, no company has hit over a 65% rating, so none of the companies ranked has cause for celebration or complacency.
The Index ranks companies according to 31 criteria which are focused around commitment, freedom of expression, and privacy, as well as making practical recommendations. The Index will aid human rights advocates, policy-makers, and responsible investors. It could also help companies to improve their own policies and practices, enabling them, as well as pushing them, towards respecting human rights in the sectors which they themselves continue to shape and develop.
Recent cases have shown that, left unsupervised in the hands of corporations, freedom of expression and privacy can be left broken on the floor of the digital playroom. This index could be a valuable resource for users and companies alike, as well being a watchful eye on those who might seek not to play fair with online rights.
This post was first published on ARTICLE 19.
Institute for Human Rights and Business
Lucy Purdon, ICT Programme Manager
The Corporate Accountability Index from the Ranking Digital Rights project is a welcome and important initiative in the on-going quest for meaningful corporate transparency in the ICT sector.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2011, say that human rights due diligence is about “knowing and showing” that a company respects human rights. We should insist that not only do companies demonstrate “knowing” but also “showing” they respect human rights, which includes disclosing relevant policies and being transparent about how they act in situations where, in this case, they risk having a negative impact on freedom of expression and privacy.
In my own work managing IHRB’s Digital Dangers project, which encourages companies to be open and transparent about particular dilemmas they face in particular countries, I understand that being transparent can be challenging for ICT companies. This could be due to commercial issues, or being prevented by law from revealing certain details, such as particular government warrants for information. No one company can change the landscape alone, so it is encouraging to see ICT companies from different regions engage with and feature in the Corporate Accountability Index.
At this early stage, we should be thinking about how consumers, civil society groups and businesses themselves (whether featured in the Index or not) can use the information and results therein to improve policy and practice. I am looking forward to seeing how this unfolds over the coming months, and indeed how to incorporate learning from the Index into my own work.
This November, Ranking Digital Rights, released its inaugural Corporate Accountability Index, evaluating the efforts of 16 top Internet and telecommunications companies in the area of human rights.
The Index reviews companies based on publicly available information about commitments and policies that it has determined may affect users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy and in the process, brings to light some of the complex issues that ICT companies face when seeking to respect and promote privacy and freedom of expression.
What RDR doesn’t do is profess to have all the answers. It is for this reason that as one of the companies included in the Index, Yahoo has welcomed the opportunity for dialogue that the Index provides on how companies are realising and acting on their responsibility for human rights in the technology sector.
As an Internet company, we recognise the importance of fostering an exchange of ideas about how companies, government, NGOs, responsible investors, users and other stakeholders can work together to address the challenging issues that lie at the intersection of technology and human rights. Our Business & Human Rights Program coordinates and leads our efforts in this area. We’ve also engaged these issues as a founding member and current Board member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder organisation dedicated to promoting learning and sharing amongst a diverse group of companies, academics, human rights organisations and investors, to advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.
We are now studying RDR’s findings and looking forward to the important conversations that it will spark about company disclosures and policies affecting users’ free expression and privacy.
This blog gives the views of the author, and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics.