Ranking Digital Rights Partners with Consumer Reports to Set Standards for Privacy and Security

We are thrilled to announce Ranking Digital Rights’ participation in a new collaborative partnership with Consumer Reports and several other leading privacy, security, and human rights organizations to develop a digital standard to measure the privacy and security of products, apps, and services.

The goal is to help companies prioritize consumers’ data security and privacy needs, and to help consumers make informed choices. The first version of the standard was unveiled today at https://thedigitalstandard.org.

The digital standard draws from the Ranking Digital Rights research methodology along with other technical testing and research methodologies developed by Disconnect and the Cyber Independent Testing Lab with assistance from our friends at Aspiration.

As a part of today’s launch, the coalition behind the new digital standard is inviting broader input and collaboration from a range of stakeholders to help develop and improve the new protocol. Click here to review the proposed criteria for evaluating software, services, and devices and to find out how to contribute to the standard via GitHub.

We will be talking about the standard and how it was developed at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, TX on March 13th at 9:30am and look forward to many more discussions over the coming months.

Ranking Digital Rights 2017 Corporate Accountability Index launches on March 23rd!

We are excited to announce that on March 23rd at 9:30am ET (13:30 GMT/UTC) Ranking Digital Rights will launch the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index: a ranking of 22 of the world’s most powerful telecommunications, internet, and mobile companies on their commitments and disclosed policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

The 2017 Index follows the inaugural 2015 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index which found widespread failure by companies to disclose key information about their policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy. Users were left largely in the dark about how and why their information is collected, used, and shared, as well as many of the circumstances under which content is blocked or removed.

Click here to join us on launch day to find out what has changed since 2015, what companies can do to improve, and why it matters. Presentation of the Index results will be followed by a discussion about how consumers, activists, investors, and companies themselves can use that data to ensure that, as businesses power and shape our internet, they also do a better job of respecting our rights.

The launch will be webcast globally; visit this page on the day of the event to access the video. Join the conversation online by using #rankingrights and by following @rankingrights.

Work with RDR as an OTF Information Controls Fellow!

Ranking Digital Rights is an official host organization for the Open Technology Fund’s 2017 Information Controls Fellowship, which considers applicants from a broad range of specializations and approaches to propose projects that would help “increase understanding of tactics used by repressive governments to censor and surveil the internet and mechanisms to overcome them.”

As a fellowship host, RDR welcomes applications from graduate students and seasoned researchers with backgrounds in computer science, engineering, internet and telecommunications law, or communications studies with a strong technical background. Projects should be directly related to RDR’s core mission, which is to evaluate and benchmark ICT sector companies on their respect for freedom of expression and privacy. At the same time, fellows should help to address new research questions, methodological problems, or advocacy opportunities not presently covered by the work of RDR’s core full-time staff. For example:

  • Carry out a research project designed to help us to identify, develop, and test out changes to the Index research methodology to accommodate new types of companies or technologies;
  • Carry out a research project to determine how the Index research methodology should be adapted to companies operating in a single country or region;
  • Support a regional research partner in developing and piloting a national or regional version of the Index;
  • Develop a research or technical testing project, using the Index data and findings as a starting point, to examine the impact of certain company policies among certain user communities, or to verify whether companies’ actual practices are consistent with their disclosed policies. Ideally the project could serve as a proof of concept for other researchers to emulate or expand upon;
  • Work with NGO partners in a particular country or region to develop advocacy strategies using Index data;
  • Develop new ways of sharing and using the Index data for advocacy through visualizations and other online tools.

Prior academic research experience or professional work related to freedom of expression, censorship, privacy, and surveillance in the ICT sector is important. Prior experience working collaboratively with teams and meeting deadlines is also important. International experience and ability to read at least one language other than English is a major plus.

The successful applicant will demonstrate a thorough understanding of the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index: its purpose, research methodology, advocacy goals, etc., and will clearly articulate how his or her skills and interests can concretely build upon the project’s methodology, research community, and outputs. We are a global project and proposals to work remotely for all or part of the fellowship are welcome when accompanied by evidence that the applicant has prior experience working remotely with people in other countries. When submitting a CV it will be useful if the applicant can include a list of appropriate references who can attest to their experience and track record.

Click here to learn more about the fellowship (including start times, fellowship length, different fellowship types, stipend, etc) and to apply through the OTF website.

#KeepItOn: Corporate Accountability for Network Shutdowns

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Internet shutdowns are bad for human rights – as this YouTube video by RDR advocacy partner Access Now clearly illustrates, and as the UN Human Rights council asserted in a landmark resolution this past summer. Shutdowns are also bad for business. A recent paper by the Brookings Institution found that between July 2015 and June 2016, 81 short-term shutdowns of the internet by 19 countries cost the global economy over $2.6 billion in GDP.

For both reasons, the UK-based investor advocacy group ShareAction and Access Now recently co-published an Investor Brief explaining why investors should be concerned, and suggesting questions they should be asking of the telecommunications companies in whose stock they invest. Last month ShareAction and UNPRI (Principles for Responsible Investment) hosted an investor briefing event in their London offices. RDR was asked to present at the meeting alongside Access Now and the Global Network Initiative, whose members have also been speaking out against the harms of network shutdowns. The Investor Brief cites RDR as a useful tool for investors in evaluating companies’ performance on digital rights including network shutdowns, and notes which companies that performed poorly in RDR’s 2015 Index have also been connected to internet shutdowns.

While our 2015 Index methodology did not have a dedicated indicator focusing exclusively on network shutdowns, specific elements within several of the 2015 “freedom of expression” indicators examined company policies and practices in relation to network shutdowns. Specifically F4: Reasons for account or service restriction, F5: Notify users of restriction, and F6: Process for responding to third party requests which includes requests to restrict or shut down networks, and F7: Data about government requests which included data about requests to shut down networks. Other indicators in the commitment section also sought due diligence and accountability policies and mechanisms that would have an impact on how companies handle government demands to shut down networks.

For the 2017 Index, in response to the growing problem of network shutdowns and the need to highlight company policy and practice in relation to them, we have consolidated elements related to network shutdowns into a single indicator, F10: Network shutdowns, which states:

The company should clearly explain the circumstances under which it may shut down or restrict access to the network or to specific protocols, services, or applications on the network.

In order to evaluate telecommunications companies on this indicator we evaluate their disclosures on eight “element” questions:

  1. Does the company clearly explain the reason(s) why it may shut down service to a particular area or group of users?
  2. Does the company clearly explain why it may restrict access to specific applications or protocols (e.g., VoIP, messaging) in a particular area or to a specific group of users?
  3. Does the company clearly explain its process for responding to requests to shut down a network or restrict access to a service?
  4. Does the company commit to push back on requests to shut down a network or restrict access to a service?
  5. Does the company clearly disclose that it notifies users directly when it shuts down the network or restricts access to a service?
  6. Does the company list the number of network shutdown requests it receives?
  7. Does the company clearly identify the specific legal authority that makes the request?
  8. Does the company list the number of requests with which it complied?

Stay tuned for the launch of the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index in March 2017 to find out which companies do best and worst on this indicator.

Draft Methodology for RDR’s 2017 Index: Now Seeking Feedback

Since the launch of our 2015 Corporate Accountability Index in November, our hard-working team has undertaken a thorough review of the Index methodology, research process, and results. We have also expanded the methodology to cover more types of companies, products and services.

The result is a revised methodology for public comment and final stakeholder consultation. In order to facilitate feedback and enable easy comparison between the new draft version and the 2015 version, we are providing four separate PDF documents that can be downloaded via the following links:

Feedback on the revised methodology should be sent to feedback@rankingdigitalrights.org by August 5, 2016.

Readers of the above documents are also encouraged to review the results of the 2015 Index as well as the downloadable report and raw data, all available here.

As part of our effort to collect as much feedback as possible from a range of sources, members of our team will be reaching out to all companies ranked in 2015, companies that we are considering for inclusion in the next round, and other key stakeholders.

After feedback is absorbed and final revisions are made, data collection and analysis will begin in Fall 2016. We aim to publish the next iteration of the RDR Corporate Accountability Index in the first half of 2017, with more precise timing to be determined. Up to six companies will be added for the 2017 Index. The names of those companies will be made public when we publish the final revised methodology and launch the new research cycle.