Ranking Digital Rights in the News

Since its release on March 23, the 2017 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index has received attention from NGOs and media outlets around the world.

According to Cynthia Wong of Human Rights Watch, the Index “provides users with a crucial assessment about company policies, and a roadmap for the basic standards firms must meet if they hope to earn our trust by respecting our privacy and freedom of expression.”

Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) partner Access Now highlighted the Index’s findings showing that telecommunications companies lack transparency about their processes for responding to network shutdown requests from governments. “Telcos can often be required to shut down the internet at risk of losing their licenses to operate, but still have options to push back against governments,” according to the organization. “Ranking Digital Rights illuminates many ways for telcos to increase transparency on their shutdown policies and practices.”

R3D, a digital rights organization based in Mexico, also published a piece spotlighting the performance of Mexican telecommunications company América Móvil, which ranked fifth out the 10 telecommunications companies evaluated in the 2017 Index.

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) issued a statement highlighting a key Index finding that GNI and Telecommunications Industry Dialogue (TID) members were among the top performers in the Index.

Index findings were also reported in Yahoo Finance, Observer, Media Power Monitor, Vocativ, Global Voices Advox, Entrepreneur, and CSO Australia. The China Digital Times and Hong Kong Free Press reviewed the differences between the two Chinese companies evaluated, Baidu and Tencent.

In addition, RDR team members were interviewed and invited to write pieces about the 2017 Index research. On NPR’s Weekend Edition, RDR project director Rebecca MacKinnon discussed key findings of the Index and what these findings mean for users’ freedom of expression and privacy. “What’s really important is that companies be transparent, so people know who to hold accountable,” she said. “If your content is being removed or you’re being prevented from accessing certain information, you need to know who is responsible for that decision.”

In the Consumerist, senior research fellow Nathalie Maréchal discussed the Index findings related to mobile ecosystems. Our research showed that all three mobile ecosystems evaluatedApple iOS, Google Android, and Samsung’s implementation of Androidfailed to sufficiently disclose policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. In a piece for Global Voices Advocacy, Maréchal also discussed how cheaper smartphones can leave users more vulnerable to online threats and hacking, highlighting the importance of company disclosure of how they address security vulnerabilities.

In Slate, policy and communications analyst Ilana Ullman discussed the issue of Facebook and Twitter providing access to Geofeedia, a third-party developer that marketed its social media-monitoring product as a surveillance tool to U.S. law enforcement. The issue highlights why social networks need more clear terms of service, according to Ullman. “Social media companies must be more transparent with their users about the steps they are taking to crack down on surveillance tool developers like Geofeedia, and provide evidence that these commitments are being implemented,” she wrote.

In the New America Weekly, senior research analyst Laura Reed discussed how the recent roll back of the FCC’s broadband privacy guidelines will negatively impact transparency and public accountability around how companies handle users’ information. “All companies should, at the very least, tell users what they are doing with their personal information,” according to Reed.

Read more about the 2017 Index, key findings, and recommendations. The full report and raw data can be downloaded here.

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 Media Mentions

As we settle into the new year, RDR and its Index continue to make the news.

Rebecca MacKinnon wrote an op-ed for CNN arguing that as technology companies face greater pressure to monitor and censor communication, we risk losing the ability to use such platforms for social justice, activism, and journalism. Priya Kumar wrote the lead article for the January 28th edition of New America Weekly, which describes how RDR’s Index helps foster greater corporate accountability among ICT companies. And in a piece for Slate, Priya drew on the latest academic research and the Index results to highlight what’s lacking from company privacy policies. Nathalie Maréchal wrote a paper about RDR for a special issue of The Fibreculture Journal focused on activism and technology.


Screenshot of Public Radio International’s story on digital rights

Other media outlets and advocacy organizations continued to interview RDR team members and draw on the Index results. Rebecca MacKinnon was quoted in an Atlantic article about American Internet companies doing business in China. The Public Radio International program, “Whose Century Is it?” did a piece on digital rights that highlighted Rebecca’s work in the space, including RDR. An interview with Rebecca (conducted two years ago) was featured in the documentary Facebookistan, released late last year. The film focuses on efforts to get companies such as Facebook to respect users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy. The title comes from a term Rebecca coined in her book, “Consent of the Networked.” The civic news outlet CivSource quoted Rebecca about an open letter signed by more than 170 organizations and individuals in support of strong encryption. And in a blog post about Internet shutdowns in Egypt and Morocco, AccessNow cited Etisalat’s poor performance in RDR’s Index.

RDR in the News

Since its release in early November, the Ranking Digital Rights inaugural Corporate Accountability Index has received worldwide media attention, demonstrating global interest in corporate respect for users’ rights.

In coordination with the launch of the Index on November 3rd, The Guardian newspaper published two in-depth analyses of the Index data and its implications:

Rebecca MacKinnon discussed RDR's Index on the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal channel. Screenshot via Opinion Journal

Screenshot of Rebecca MacKinnon discussing RDR’s Index on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal channel.

The RDR team has been interviewed and invited to write pieces about the Index. Rebecca MacKinnon discussed the findings on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal channel and with Deutsche Welle. Priya Kumar talked about the Index on the Digital Show on Sirius XM’s Wharton Business Radio channel. Allon Bar wrote about the Index in a guest post for the Measuring Business and Human Rights project, based at the London School of Economics. He also talked about the results on the German Info-radio.

In addition, news about RDR’s Index and its findings appeared in NBC News, Fast Company, Ars Technica, Bloomberg Brief, Fortune, SFGate, TechWeek Europe, Hacked, WNYC, Information Week, CXO Today, IT ProPortal, WebProNews, Beta News, SC Magazine, TechWorm and Digit (India).

An Agence France-Presse story about the Index was syndicated around the world, including The Times of India, The Economic Times (India), Malay Mail Online, The Malaysian Insider, Free Malaysia Today, The Star (Malaysia) The Business Times (Singapore), The Bangkok Post, The Manila Times, Interaksyon (The Philippines) The Peninsula (Qatar), The Citizen (South Africa), France24, and Le Figaro (in French). International outlets also covered the story: la Repubblica (in Italian), Süddeutsche Zeitung and Taz (both in German) and NU.nl and WebWereld (both in Dutch). The Institute for Human Rights and Business, Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote about the Index.

Media are already using RDR’s Index to provide context when discussing digital rights issues. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn referenced the Index results in a story about Facebook’s updated transparency report. ThinkProgress highlighted the Index in an explanation of how the U.S. Congress struggles to craft cybersecurity legislation that respects individual privacy rights. OpenDemocracy underlined RDR’s findings in its argument that technology companies endanger their reputations by ignoring digital rights. Another post on the LSE’s Measuring Business and Human Rights project blog explains how rankings such as RDR’s Index can spur company action.

Stay tuned for more from the RDR team in the coming weeks and months!