To see the full text of the indicators, including definitions of key terms and research guidance, click here.

What companies and services are included in the Index?

The Index includes eight publicly listed Internet companies and eight publicly listed telecommunications companies.

Internet companies: We examined company-wide policies and disclosure related to 2-3 selected services, as specified below.

Telecommunications companies: We examined disclosure at the parent-company level and for 1-2 selected services in each company’s home jurisdiction, as specified below.

How were these companies selected?

The following factors influenced company selection:

How were these services selected?

The following factors guided the selection of services:

What types of company disclosures did the Index examine?

The Index considered company disclosure on several levels – at the parent company level, the operating company level (for telecommunications companies), and the service level. This enabled the research team to develop as complete an understanding as possible about the level at which companies disclose or apply their policies.

For Internet companies, the parent company typically delivered the services. In some cases the service was also also a subsidiary. However, the structure of these companies was generally such that the subsidiary only delivered one service, which made it straightforward to understand the scope of policy disclosure.

For telecommunications companies, with the exception of AT&T, the parent company did not directly provide consumer services, so researchers also examined a subsidiary or operating company based in the home market to ensure the Index captured operational policies alongside corporate commitments. Given AT&Ts external presentation of its group-level and U.S. operating company as an integrated unit, the research process did not separate these units out for AT&T.

The Index methodology holds a corporation responsible for the policies and practices of a new service, subsidiary, or acquisition after an initial six-month period.

How many indicators are in the Index?

The Index contains 31 indicators:

Internet companies were evaluated on 30 of the indicators, and telecommunications companies were evaluated on 28 of the indicators. Indicators F11, P8, and P13 only applied to Internet companies, and F10 only applied to telecommunications companies. A few elements within indicators were not applicable to certain services or types of companies. The following list identifies which indicators or elements were N/A for certain companies or services:

For the six commitment indicators, which focus on the degree to which the company has incorporated users’ rights into their governance and operations, researchers looked for disclosure related to both freedom of expression and privacy.

What types of indicators did the Index include?

The 31 indicators contain various answer types:

What was the research process?

The Index and its results are based on publicly disclosed information. Researchers thoroughly examined company websites and documents such as annual reports and sustainability reports. One indicator (C1.B) considered media reports related to the company; in all other indicators, information found in media reports did not receive credit. Researchers examined disclosure in the language of the company’s headquarters country as well as disclosure in English.

Research for the Index was carried out jointly by Ranking Digital Rights, Sustainalytics, and a team of international researchers. Most of the research and analysis was conducted between June 1, 2015 and July 31, 2015. The final cutoff date to consider any new disclosures was October 1, 2015.

The research process included the following steps:

  1. Primary research: Researchers were assigned specific companies, and they collected information for each indicator for that company.
  2. Peer review: A second set of researchers checked the work of the primary researchers, raised questions, and suggested changes.
  3. Reconciliation: Researchers from RDR resolved differences between the primary research results and peer review.
  4. Company review: Initial results from step 3 were sent to companies for comment and feedback.
  5. Horizontal review: Researchers from RDR and Sustainalytics examined results on each indicator across all companies to ensure consistency and quality control.
  6. Revision: RDR and Sustainalytics processed company feedback and made decisions about results.
  7. Final results: RDR finalized the data and generated scores based on the findings.

Before the research began, we defined key terms and drafted guidance for each indicator to help researchers understand what each indicator meant and how to interpret it. We published the definitions and guidance here.

How did researchers engage with the companies?

Proactive and open stakeholder engagement has been a critical component of the Index’s methodology. Before the research began, we contacted all 16 companies and informed them that they were included in this year’s Index. Following a first round of research and review, we shared initial results with each company. We invited them to provide written feedback as well as additional source documents. In many cases, the research team conducted conference calls with the companies to discuss the Index, its methodology, and the initial findings. This was a valuable opportunity to maintain a dialogue with stakeholders and to establish clear understanding of how digital rights can be appropriately protected and respected.

How did the Index consider company feedback?

While engagement with the companies was critical to understand company positions and ensure the research reviewed relevant disclosure, the Index evaluates how and whether technology companies disclose policies and practices that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy. As such, we did not consider a score change unless companies identified publicly available documentation that supported a change. Absent that, the research team reviewed company feedback and considered it for context in the narrative report, but not for scoring purposes.

How were the companies scored?

A company’s total score on the Index is out of 100 percent. All indicators were weighted equally, so each indicator is worth approximately 3.3 percent for Internet companies and 3.6 percent for telecommunications companies (since they were evaluated on 30 and 28 indicators, respectively).

When a company received an N/A for a certain indicator or element, its score was calculated by averaging its performance across the applicable elements/indicators. In addition, any “partial” score was worth half the possible points for a given indicator/element.

During data collection, researchers documented disclosure at the group level, operating company level (if applicable) and service level. Disclosure that was recorded at a higher level (such as “group” or “operating company”) and clearly applied to the lower levels (“operating company”, “services”) was also recorded at those lower levels. This ensured that company scores reflected actual company disclosure and performance.

For indicators C1-C5, we calculated overall company scores by averaging scores across all levels. This is because we expect companies to make human rights commitments at the highest levels and that such commitments encompass all levels of the company’s operations.

For indicator C6 and for all F and P indicators, we calculated overall company scores by averaging the service-level scores. Indicator C6 focuses on the company’s remedy and grievance mechanisms, and users who seek remedy typically look for such disclosure at the service level. Similarly, the F and P indicators focus on policies and practices that relate more directly to the use of a particular service.

Throughout the Index website, companies’ scores on the three categories – commitment, freedom of expression, and privacy – as well as their indicator scores are displayed as percentages to facilitate comparison.