Archives for March 2016

Next steps for RDR

Since the November 2015 launch of the Corporate Accountability Index our team has kept busy: As we’ve reported over recent months, we’ve been speaking at conferences and workshops, writing articles, and producing a Spanish translation of the 2015 Index report and related materials.

We’ve also been seeking feedback about the Index from all of our stakeholders – companies, investors, policymakers, and civil society – to learn how the data and analysis is being used, what aspects of the Index have had greatest impact on whom, and how we can improve both the Index itself and the way we communicate about it. More broadly, we are engaging with stakeholders in wider conversations about standards and best practices for the ICT sector on privacy and freedom of expression – and what different stakeholders around the world can do to advance them.

On top of all that, we have been busy fundraising and writing grant proposals. The reality is that we started 2016 without the funds needed to produce another iteration of the Index this year. Thanks to our team’s hard work, we are now optimistic that by mid-2016 we will have secured sufficient funding to release an expanded and improved version of the Index in the first half of 2017. We hope to be able to put the Index on an annual cycle after that. If our optimism for this year’s funding proves correct, the plan is to start a new research cycle in the second half of 2016. Meanwhile, we are getting ready for the next Index in several ways:

  • Reviewing the Index methodology in relation to the results and feedback we’ve received so far;
  • Making decisions – in consultation with stakeholders – about how and to what extent the methodology, research process, and research guidance and training should be revised or adjusted;
  • Exploring the possibility of adding/adapting some indicators to accommodate the addition to the Index of companies whose primary products are devices and software;
  • Deciding how many companies to add and which ones, based on a realistic assessment of our resources;
  • Developing a long-term adoption and outreach strategy to support a global community of researchers and advocates interested in using and/or building upon the Index results in a range of ways around the world.

Anybody interested in engaging with us as we prepare for the next Index is encouraged to follow this blog for continued updates. Feel free to post comments with your ideas or email us at with any feedback you’d like to share. If you are attending RightsCon in San Francisco next week, be sure to join our sessions where we are inviting people from the worlds of human rights activism, academia, government, and corporations to help us improve and build upon the Index so that we can maximize its usefulness and impact.

RDR @ RightsCon 2016

Next week, the Ranking Digital Rights team heads to San Francisco for the fifth RightCon conference. Our team is planning and participating in several sessions, and we look forward to many dynamic, informative conversations with experts and advocates from around the world.

rights-con-logoEager to provide feedback on RDR’s potential expansion to include software, device, and networking equipment companies? Then our Day 1 session on Ranking Tech Companies Part 2: Software, Devices and Networking Equipment is the one for you. On Wednesday, March 30 from 4:00-5:00 pm, we’ll converse with privacy and freedom of expression experts, technical specialists, and other participants about how best to incorporate companies that make and sell software, devices, and networking equipment into the already existing RDR methodology.

Interested in corporate transparency? RDR has organized a Day 2 session in partnership with Article 19 focused on Opening the Black Box: Understanding How Companies Enforce Their Rules. Join us on Thursday, March 31 from 12:00-1:15 pm to discuss how companies can be more transparent about their enforcement practices and why governments should be transparent about extra-legal requests they make to companies to restrict content. Our research for the Corporate Accountability Index found that as of November 2015 none of the 16 companies we evaluated reported any data on content they restrict when enforcing terms of service.

Doing company-focused research of your own? Then come to our Day 3 session, “Ranking ICT Companies on Digital Rights: A ‘How To’ Guide” on Friday, April 1 from 9:00-10:15 am. Co-hosted by RDR and EFF, this session is designed for civil society groups who are at various stages of research projects that focus on ICT companies and digital rights. We will learn from each other’s experiences in carrying out company rankings and other company-focused research.

Our team is also participating in additional sessions at RightsCon — come check them out!

The full conference program is available here. Our team will be at RightsCon for the entire conference, so feel free to get in touch if you’d like to connect:

RDR in the Public Eye

As issues of encryption, security, and online content restriction dominate the headlines, the RDR team continues to speak and write publicly about why it’s important for companies in the ICT sector to respect users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

Screenshot of the Ford Foundation's Q & A with Rebecca MacKinnon

Screenshot of the Ford Foundation’s Q & A with Rebecca MacKinnon

The Ford Foundation, which supports RDR’s work, featured a Q-and-A with Rebecca MacKinnon focused on the question, “Are tech companies doing enough to protect consumer rights and privacy?

The team has been active in broader policy discussions about digital rights. MacKinnon participated in a panel on “How to Fight ISIS Without Breaking the Internet” at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival. She spoke about RDR and the state of global Internet freedom in at a congressional briefing on “Internet Freedom in the Age of Dictators and Terrorists” organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission. She also joined a panel on “Digital Globalization: The New Era of Global Flows and What it Means for the United States” hosted by New America.

RDR continues to engage with stakeholders about the Corporate Accountability Index, how it is being used, and how we can continue to improve and expand it.  Allon Bar and Nathalie Maréchal ran three sessions related to RDR at the Internet Freedom Festival. Priya Kumar participated in a panel on digital rights at the Media Consortium’s annual conference.

In recent weeks, RDR released several documents that build on and extend its work. Spanish translations of the 2015 Corporate Accountability Index methodologyexecutive summary, and report on Mexico-based telco América Móvil are now available on RDR’s website. A Spanish translation of the full report is coming soon. RDR also submitted comments to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and published an in-depth analysis of the Index’s transparency reporting findings.

Policymakers, educators, and journalists are citing RDR and its work. The Corporate Accountability Index was cited in a paper by the Global Commission on Internet Governance on “The Privatization of Human Rights: Illusions of Consent, Automation, and Neutrality.” A University of Helsinki course, Media Reform: Issues and Stakeholders, references RDR’s Index. MacKinnon was quoted in a Reuters story about India’s recent decision to ban Internet service programs such as Facebook’s Free Basics on the grounds that they violate net neutrality principles.

RDR en español

RDR en españolWe are pleased to announce the Spanish-language release of the executive summary of the 2015 Corporate Accountability Index, the Research Indicators, and America Móvil company profile. Funded by Internews and translated by Global Voices Fair Trade Translation, these documents are a crucial step in making our research approach and findings available to global audiences, notably Latin American civil society organizations and ICT companies that operate in the region.

Indeed, privacy and freedom of expression are under threat in Latin America as governments across the region deploy increasingly sophisticated ways to control the flow of information online. In Spain as well, the “Gag Law” (Ley Mordaza) presents a threat to privacy and freedom of expression. Fortunately, a growing number of civil society organizations are dedicated to advocating for digital rights, and we hope they will find these translated documents useful in their work.

RDR’s Allon Bar and Nathalie Maréchal are at the Internet Freedom Festival this week in Valencia, Spain, and would be delighted to meet with colleagues from the Spanish-speaking world and beyond.

Resumen executivo Indice de Responsabilidad Corporativa 2015
Indicadores de Investigacion 2015
Perfíl America Movil
RDR @ IFF blog post

Updated March 24: The Spanish translation of the full Index is now online!

Improving Corporate Transparency Reporting

Technology companies face mounting pressure to address certain types of content on their platforms. And while some content can be problematic and deserves to be addressed, Ranking Digital Rights emphasizes the need for companies to develop accountable, fair, and consistent practices when doing so.

To that end, RDR’s 2015 Corporate Accountability Index includes several indicators on companies’ transparency reporting practices with regard to free expression and privacy. These indicators examine the extent to which companies explain their processes to evaluate third-party requests for content restriction or for access to user data, report data about the volume and nature of those requests, and enforce of their terms of service.


RDR has written a white paper, “Ranking Digital Rights Findings on Transparency Reporting and Companies’ Terms of Service Enforcement” to summarize the Index findings on these indicators and provide recommendations on how companies can improve their disclosure and reporting, particularly related to content restriction. These recommendations include:

  • Companies should specify what services or platforms their transparency reporting covers.
  • Companies should expand their transparency reporting to include requests from private parties as well as those from governments.
  • Companies should provide enough granularity in their reporting to give the public a clear picture of the scope and implications of company actions.
  • Through terms of service and other community standards-type documents, companies already disclose information about the circumstances in which they restrict content; they should take the next step and report data about the volume of actions they take to enforce these rules with respect to different types of content.

Since the Index data was finalized, companies have taken steps in the right direction. Last October, Microsoft released its first content removals requests report. This report, which was released after the 2015 Index data was finalized, includes data on government requests, copyright infringement requests related to Bing search results, and requests received under the European Court of Justice’s “right to be forgotten” ruling. Shortly after the Index was released in November, Facebook updated its transparency report to specify that it covers requests related to Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

In February, Twitter became the first company ranked in the Index to disclose some information on the actions it takes to enforce its Terms of Service. It disclosed that it has suspended more than 125,000 accounts “for threatening or promoting terrorist acts,” which violates the Twitter Rules. Twitter’s content removals transparency report covering the second half of 2015 also disclosed the number of times the company received legal requests to restrict content and did so because the content violated Twitter’s terms of service. (Twitter’s reporting does not include content removal requests the company’s customer support team received through online forms.)

These company actions demonstrate that there is momentum toward disclosing more information related to content restriction. We hope RDR’s findings and recommendations can help those who advocate for greater transparency reporting from companies.