U.S. net neutrality repeal moves forward, internet companies remove extremist content, and Uber pays hacker to hide 2016 data breach

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

U.S. proceeds with rollback of net neutrality protections

2014 net neutrality protest at the White House. Photo Joseph Gruber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

U.S. regulators are moving forward with plans to undo current net neutrality protections despite strong public opposition. On December 14, the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) plans to vote to repeal the rules adopted in 2015, which provide strong net neutrality protections that prevent ISPs from blocking, throttling, or offering paid prioritization for certain types of content. Several major internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Reddit, have spoken out in support of keeping the existing net neutrality protections, and a coalition of NGOs and activists have organized over 700 protests in all 50 states this week to oppose the FCC’s plan. Verizon, however, has asked the FCC to preempt any state laws regulating net neutrality, in the event that individual states pass their own net neutrality rules, and Comcast deleted a net neutrality pledge from its website the same day the rules repeal was announced, according to Ars Technica. The FCC has been criticized for ignoring strong public support for net neutrality, and for proceeding with its plan despite evidence that many of the public comments submitted about the repeal were spam or used stolen identities.

Telecommunications companies should not prioritize or block certain types of network traffic, and should publicly disclose a commitment to not prioritize or block traffic. A free and open internet depends on the ability for all users to have equal access to content and services, which is not possible if ISPs block or delay certain types of content or apps. However, it is often unclear whether companies use these types of network management practices, which is why strong net neutrality protections can help ensure that users have equal access to internet content. As 2017 Corporate Accountability Index research shows, most of the world’s leading telecommunications companies fall short of making such a public commitment. Of the ten telecommunications companies evaluated in the 2017 Index, Vodafone was the only one to clearly disclose that it does not prioritize, block, or delay certain types of traffic, applications, protocols, or content for reasons beyond assuring quality of service and reliability of the network.Continue Reading

India, U.S. mull net neutrality rules; study of Android apps reveals trackers prevalent; censorship concerns in New Zealand

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

India, U.S. mull net neutrality rules

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India’s telecommunications regulator is pushing for stronger net neutrality protections, including prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling or offering paid traffic prioritization. In 2016, the regulator banned differential pricing for certain types of internet content, which effectively prohibitedzero-rating” programs like Facebook’s “Free Basics.” The new recommendations go a step further in advocating for stronger net neutrality protections, and will be considered by the Ministry of Communications before potentially being enforced through executive orders.

In contrast, the U.S. is considering rolling back net neutrality protections put in place in 2015, sparking a new round of public debate and warnings by digital rights advocates that doing so poses a threat to the free and open internet. On November 21, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to undo the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which were adopted in 2015. The rules classify U.S. internet service providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act, giving the FCC the authority to enforce strong net neutrality protections preventing ISPs from blocking, throttling, or offering paid prioritization for certain types of content. In an op-ed announcing his proposal to repeal the current rules, on which the FCC will vote on December 14, Pai claimed that “the FCC simply would require internet service providers to be transparent so that consumers can buy the plan that’s best for them,” but did not specify how the FCC would define or enforce transparency requirements.

Telecommunications companies should not prioritize or block certain types of network traffic, and should clearly disclose such a commitment to their users. However, findings from the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index showed that telecommunications companies often fall short on doing so. Of the ten telecommunications companies evaluated, Vodafone was the only one to clearly disclose that it does not prioritize, block, or delay certain types of traffic, applications, protocols, or content for reasons beyond assuring quality of service and reliability of the network. Net neutrality regulations are therefore an important tool for ensuring that telecommunications companies are giving equal access to all users, particularly since telecommunications companies often offer limited disclosure on the matter to their users.Continue Reading

New report finds increase in mobile network shutdowns, livestreaming and VPN restrictions; Somaliland blocks social media during elections; YouTube broadens extremist content takedown policy

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

New report finds increase in mobile network shutdowns, livestreaming and VPN restrictions

Government-ordered mobile network shutdowns have reached a new high, according to Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net report, released last week. The organization found that half of the network shutdowns over the past year were mobile network-specific, and “often in areas populated by ethnic or religious minorities.” The report also identified a rise in the number of government restrictions on live video broadcasting platforms, particularly during political protests, and blocking Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which may be used to circumvent censorship or browse the internet more securely. Research showed that 14 countries currently have some type of restriction on VPNs, with six of those countries having introduced new restrictions within the past year.

The increase in government efforts to control communications networks and to ban anonymous activity online poses risks to human rights around the world. Governments should respect and protect human rights, and work with the private sector and civil society to ensure that legal and regulatory frameworks enable companies to respect users’ freedom of expression and privacy rights. As noted in our Corporate Accountability Index, corporate accountability can only be achieved when governments are also held accountable. Continue Reading

Russia increases pressure on foreign companies, Thailand to require mobile phone biometric identity verification, and U.S. Department of Justice limits use of gag orders for user data requests

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

Russia increases pressure on foreign companies to comply with data localization law

BalticServers.com via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Russian authorities have increased pressure on foreign companies to comply with a data localization law. Russia’s telecommunications regulator has said it will investigate whether or not Facebook is complying with the law, which requires data operators processing personal data of Russian citizens to do so using servers within Russia. Authorities previously announced that Facebook will be blocked next year if the company does not comply with the law. Russian authorities said that Twitter planned to comply with the law by the middle of 2018, according to the Telegraph. Twitter declined to comment, the Telegraph reported.

Privacy advocates have raised concerns over mandatory data localization laws, particularly in countries such as Russia, where authorities may have direct access to communications data. The data localization law is one example of how authorities in Russia are increasing restrictions on online privacy. Messaging app Telegram was recently fined for refusing to turn over encryption keys which would have allowed authorities to decrypt and access the contents of user communications, and in August, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law prohibiting tools, including VPNs, that allow users to access banned websites, and another law requiring users of chat apps to verify their identities.Continue Reading

Telegram faces challenges from Russian authorities, U.S. and EU publish first annual Privacy Shield review, and data breach exposes millions of South Africans’ personal information

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

Telegram faces challenges from Russian authorities

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The messaging app Telegram has been fined for refusing to give Russian authorities access to encrypted communications. A Moscow court fined Telegram 800,000 Rubles (around 14,000 USD) after the company refused to turn over encryption keys allowing  authorities to decrypt and access the contents of user communications. In June, Telegram agreed to register as an “information distributor” with Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, a requirement under Russian data laws. Telegram founder Pavel Durov said this was a formality and that the company would not share private user data with the government. Durov also said the company would appeal the court ruling.

This case highlights the crackdown on encrypted communications by many governments throughout the world—both through efforts to legislate “backdoors” and law enforcement efforts to break encryption. It is important that companies publicly commit to implement high encryption standards, and advocate and push back against government efforts to undermine encryption. This also highlights challenges that many companies face in dealing with government requests for access to user information. As noted in our 2017 Corporate Accountability Index recommendations, companies should also commit to push back against excessively broad or extra-legal requests, and should use every opportunity available to pressure governments to move away from mass surveillance and institute meaningful oversight over national security and law enforcement authorities.Continue Reading