Why should investors care about digital rights?

When companies fail to respect users’ privacy and freedom of expression, users clearly pay a price, but they are not alone.

Luis Villa del Campo via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY 2.0)

Building on the Ranking Digital Rights 2017 Corporate Accountability Index, our inaugural Investor Research Note analyzes how investors may be affected when companies fail disclose adequate commitments and policies affecting users’ rights.

With it we aim to build investor awareness of potential material risks related to digital rights in order to inform investment research and decisions, and to support investor engagement with companies on these issues. We address:

  • How digital rights provide a framework for evaluating risks associated with the management and use of content and personal data by companies.
  • How the financial implications of digital rights issues are growing, reshaping how investors should think about risk profiles of companies that provide services affecting consumer privacy, data security, and management of content affecting users’ freedom of expression.
  • How investors can use RDR’s Corporate Accountability Index as a leading indicator for what are potentially the most material digital rights business and investment risks.

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RDR en Español

We are pleased to announce that the Ranking Digital Rights 2017 Corporate Accountability Index report highlights, as well as the América Móvil and Telefónica “report cards,” are now available in Spanish, thanks to our partners at Global Voices Translation Services.  

In a guest blog post (below), Gisela Pérez de Acha, contributing researcher with Ranking Digital Rights and a policy analyst with digital rights NGO Derechos Digitales based in Chile, reviews key highlights of the Index report and explains the importance of corporate accountability regarding policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.Continue Reading

New, global accountability mechanisms needed for a free and open internet

As governments around the world adopt internet regulations that clash with international human rights norms, new and more innovative mechanisms are needed to hold tech companies accountable to these standards, according to a new paper by Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) team members published by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

In the paper, “Corporate Accountability for a Free and Open Internet,” authors Rebecca MacKinnon, Nathalie Marechal, and Priya Kumar make the case for how global human rights benchmarking and evaluation projects like RDR’s Corporate Accountability Index help fill “governance gaps” caused by the failure of traditional governance institutions to hold governments and companies accountable for protecting and respecting the rights of internet users around the world.     

“Private Internet intermediaries increasingly find themselves at odds with governments, with serious implications for human rights,” according to the authors. “Even where law does not compel companies to violate users’ rights, companies generally lack sufficient market and regulatory incentives to protect the human rights of all of their users.”

The authors therefore call for new cross-border accountability initiatives outside existing governance institutions that will strengthen and enforce corporate accountability in upholding international freedom of expression and privacy standards: “If international legal and treaty frameworks cannot adequately protect human rights, then other types of governance and accountability mechanisms are urgently needed to provide incentives to owners and operators of Internet platforms and services to respect human rights,” according to the authors.  

Ranking Digital Rights is one of several efforts that might serve as building blocks for such mechanisms and institutions, according to the authors. The inaugural Index, published in November 2015, ranked Internet and telecommunications companies on 31 indicators evaluating disclosed commitments, policies and practices affecting Internet users’ freedom of expression and right to privacy. These types of rankings, when combined with transparency and disclosure frameworks, can help foster greater accountability as well as respect for international human rights standards.

Why companies fail on privacy policies

Why are privacy policies so difficult to understand? Because they are vague and unclear–which prevents users from understanding what companies do with their information, according to new research by former Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) research analyst Priya Kumar.

In November 2016, Kumar presented a paper using data from RDR’s 2015 Corporate Accountability Index, in which she analyzed the privacy policies of 16 of the world’s largest tech companies evaluated in that year’s Index. Her research shows that these companies typically fail to convey to users what happens to their information–from the point it is collected to when it is (possibly) deleted. Kumar finds that along with vague or unclear language, the lack of uniform definitions for what companies consider “personal information” make it difficult for users to get a complete and accurate picture of how companies handle their information.

The analysis also shows that companies are more transparent about the information they collect compared to what information they share, and that companies are least transparent about what user information they retain–even after a user deletes their account or service. “People would expect a company to keep information they actively submit to the service (e.g., posts, messages, photos, videos, etc.), until they delete it themselves,” according to Kumar. “But companies collect several other types of user information, and they typically fail to disclose how long they retain those types of information.”

The paper was presented as part of the Privacy and Language Technologies track of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence’s (AAAI) Fall Symposium Series held in Virginia. Click the link for a PDF of the paper: Privacy Policies and Their Lack of Clear Disclosure Regarding the Life Cycle of User Information

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!