What & Why?

The 2015 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index evaluates 16 of the world’s most powerful Internet and telecommunications companies on their commitments and policies that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy.

The companies ranked in this Index collectively affect the lives of billions of people across the world. People increasingly depend on Internet and telecommunications services for many facets of their daily lives, including civic, political, and religious activities. The services these companies offer connect and empower people in unprecedented ways, but they can also be misused to undermine freedom of expression and privacy.

Companies are losing public trust. According to a recent Gallup poll, only about two in 10 Americans said they “have a lot of trust in the companies they regularly do business with to keep their personal information secure.” In a 2014 poll of Internet users in 24 countries commissioned by the Center for International Governance Innovation, 74 percent of respondents said they are “concerned about company monitoring of online activity and the subsequent sale of personal data.” Loss of trust represents a material risk for companies’ business.

At the same time, society places a complex set of expectations and responsibilities upon these companies: we want them to be innovative, to make life easier and more enjoyable, and to help make our economic and business activities more efficient. We want them to operate in a way that supports public safety, child protection, and national security. In doing so, however, companies face demands from governments and others to facilitate censorship and surveillance.

Like all other businesses, the companies in this Index, and the broader technology sector they represent, share a responsibility to respect human rights. Freedom of expression and privacy are rights guaranteed in key international human rights frameworks, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The international community has affirmed that these rights should extend to the digital realm. By evaluating and comparing companies’ commitments, policies, and disclosures about practices that impact users’ freedom of expression and privacy, the Corporate Accountability Index seeks to:

This introductory section reviews how the business operations of Internet and telecommunications companies affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy rights. Building on internationally established standards for business and human rights, we explain the role that we expect companies to play in mitigating those risks. We also lay the basis for the indicators on which we have evaluated the companies. The section then concludes with a general description of the methodology used to evaluate a set of 16 companies.


Internet and telecommunications companies commonly take the following actions, thus affecting their users’ freedom of expression and privacy:

Companies can take such actions for different reasons:

Given the issues described above, Ranking Digital Rights expects companies to frame their commitments, policies, and practices around three core objectives:

  1. Due diligence and governance: According to the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, governments have the primary duty to protect human rights, but companies have a responsibility to respect human rights. Companies do not have direct control over the laws, regulations or other government actions of the countries where they operate. However, companies can carry out due diligence to anticipate potential human rights risks, and subsequently make informed business decisions on how to best prevent negative impacts on their stakeholders. In the context of Internet and telecommunications companies, this means that companies committed to respecting users’ rights should regularly assess how all aspects of their operations might potentially impact users’ freedom of expression and privacy. Companies also need to have clear processes and governance mechanisms in place to ensure that employees, managers, and executives at all levels are upholding and implementing the company’s commitments.

  2. Transparency and disclosure: By disclosing as much information as possible about their policies and practices that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy – including commercial data collection, enforcement of their terms of service, and compliance with government demands and legal requirements – companies can demonstrate a credible commitment to respect users’ rights. With sufficient information, people can better understand the risks they face and make informed decisions about how they use technology. People will also be in a better position to hold companies, governments, and other actors accountable for violations of their rights.

  3. Grievance and Remedy: According to the U.N. Guiding Principles, companies should establish a means of identifying and addressing any human rights violations or concerns that occur in relation to the company’s business. Internet and telecommunications companies should demonstrate that they have clear mechanisms in place for people to file grievances and receive remedy. Similarly, users must also have a way of learning about these mechanisms. In order for people to use such mechanisms appropriately and effectively, companies need to provide users with sufficient information not only about how companies receive and handle government requests, but also how companies handle non-governmental requests, how they collect, use, and share user information, and what the company’s own rules and enforcement processes are. This is one of many reasons why the Index places such great emphasis on transparency and disclosure.