The Ranking Digital Rights 2017 Corporate Accountability Index is now online!

The 2017 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index finds the world’s most powerful internet, mobile and telecommunications companies leave users in the dark, failing to disclose key information about policies affecting users’ rights.

Tune in here at 9:30am ET (13:30 GMT) to watch the 2017 Index launch event at New America in Washington, DC. You can also join the conversation on Twitter by following @rankingrights and by using the hashtag #rankingrights.

According to the 2017 Corporate Accountability Index, top companies fail to disclose key corporate policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy. While some companies have improved since they were first evaluated in 2015, most of the world’s internet users do not receive adequate information about how companies’ policies affect what users can or cannot say online or who is tracking them. Ranking Digital Rights analyzed a representative group of 22 companies whose products and services collectively are used by over half of the world’s 3.7 billion internet users. It builds on the 2015 Corporate Accountability Index, which found widespread failure by companies evaluated to disclose key information about their policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy.

Companies were assessed on 35 indicators in three categories: Governance, Freedom of Expression, and Privacy. This methodology was revised since the 2015 Index, following an extensive review and consultation process. It also includes new indicators, focusing on company disclosures related to issues such as network shutdowns and  data breaches.

Selected findings include:

Top scores: Overall, Google ranked highest among 12 internet and mobile companies, followed closely by Microsoft. They were the only two companies to score over 60 percent.

The U.K.-based Vodafone and U.S.-based AT&T tied for first place among 10 telecommunications companies, despite significant gaps resulting in scores of less than 50 percent.

Mobile ecosystems: Six new companies were added to the 2017 Index, including Apple and Samsung, which control the world’s largest mobile ecosystems.

Apple ranked seventh among the 12 internet and mobile companies evaluated, with an overall score of only 35 percent, despite the company’s strong public stand for users’ privacy rights in the face of recent U.S. government demands. A major reason for Apple’s relatively low score was lack of disclosure about commitments and policies affecting freedom of expression. Also, next to its U.S. peers, Apple disclosed little about how or whether it has institutionalized commitments to protect users’ rights. Samsung ranked ninth out of 12 companies in the same category, scoring only 26 percent.

Given that most of the world’s new internet users are coming online through smartphones it is especially troubling that companies controlling the world’s mobile ecosystems do not clearly disclose policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. We hope the Index will lead to greater corporate transparency across the industry, thereby empowering users to make more informed decisions about how they use technology.

Other highlights of the 2017 Index:

  • Freedom of expression is getting short-changed. How do the company’s actions affect our ability to publish, transmit, or access content? With a couple of notable exceptions, most companies disclosed the least amount of information about policies that affect users’ freedom of expression.
  • Handling of user information is opaque. How and for what purpose is our information collected, shared, retained, and used?  If somebody were to build a profile on us using this information what would it look like? Companies don’t disclose enough for us to understand our risks and make informed choices.
  • Security commitments lack sufficient evidence. Is a company making maximum efforts to keep our information secure? While we don’t expect companies to reveal security information that will help attackers, they need to provide clearer evidence that their security policies and practices are robust enough for us to trust them with sensitive information.

The Index also includes practical recommendations for steps that internet and telecommunications companies–as well as other companies throughout the sector–can take to improve. These include:

  • Provide concrete evidence that the company has institutionalized its commitments. While it is important for company leaders to demonstrate strong personal commitments to users’ rights, it is even more important that such commitments be clearly institutionalized. Otherwise, how do users know whether policies and practices will change or stay the same after key individuals leave the company?
  • Explain to users why speech, access to information, or access to service may be blocked or constrained. Who has the ability to ask the company to remove or block content or otherwise restrict speech? How does the company handle these requests? Are there effective grievance and remedy mechanisms? Companies must be transparent and accountable about the circumstances under which access to a service may be denied, or content is restricted or blocked.
  • Demonstrate a credible commitment to security. Companies should maintain industry standards of encryption and security, conduct security audits, monitor employee access to information, and educate users about threats. These policies and practices should be disclosed to users.

To view and download the complete reportincluding in-depth analysis and “report cards” for each company—as well as raw data files and other materials, visit rankingdigitalrights.org/index2017.

The 2017 Index website and data visualization were developed in partnership with the SHARE Foundation, a digital rights NGO.

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.

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.