Bharti Airtel ranked seventh out of the 10 telecommunications companies evaluated and 18th in the Index overall. In 2016, Freedom House rated the internet environment in India as "partly free," citing the growing frequency of internet shutdowns around the country as a threat to internet users’ rights. While Bharti Airtel has a corporate social responsibility program that stresses the importance of a “responsible business approach” addressing “every dimension of how business operates in the social, cultural, and economic environment,” the company demonstrated weak respect for users’ freedom of expression and privacy rights.
Bharti Airtel Limited provides telecommunication systems and services worldwide, including in India, South Asia, and Africa. The group delivers a variety of fixed and mobile voice and data telecommunications services across these markets. As of December 2016, it had served approximately 346 million customers in India and Africa.
Bharti Airtel scored poorly in the Governance category, placing in the bottom half of all companies evaluated.
India’s legal environment does not prevent the company from making commitments to respect freedom of expression and privacy in its operating markets (G1), from establishing senior-level oversight over how the company handles freedom of expression and privacy issues (G2), or from creating a process for human rights due diligence (G4). The company received partial credit for Airtel India’s stakeholder engagement but there is no evidence of stakeholder engagement in other markets (G5). Notably, Bharti Airtel tied for first place with Vodafone for grievance and remedy mechanisms (G6). Indian law requires service providers to have grievance officers and redress mechanisms.
As in the 2015 Index, Bharti Airtel earned the lowest score in the Freedom of Expression category of any telecommunications company. Content and account restriction requests: Like most telecommunications companies evaluated, Airtel India disclosed nothing about how it handles or complies with government and private requests to restrict content or accounts (F5-F7). Indian law forbids disclosure of government requests to block content, but nothing prevents companies from disclosing their process for handling these types of requests, or from having a clear policy of notifying users when they restrict or block content they publish, transmit, or attempt to access (F8).
Network management and shutdowns: As a result of legal requirements, Airtel India disclosed more information than most of its peers about its network management policies (F9), earning it the third highest score on this indicator. However, the company disclosed little about its policies and practices related to network shutdowns (F10). While Indian law prevents companies from disclosing information about specific government shutdown orders, there is no legal obstacle to disclosing company policies for evaluating and responding to shutdown requests, or from having a policy to notify users about shutdowns.
Identity policy: Airtel India disclosed that it requires all pre-paid users to provide government-issued identification (F11), which is also required by law.
Bharti Airtel placed seventh out of the 10 telecommunications companies in the Privacy category.
Handling of user information: Airtel India disclosed less than most telecommunications companies about how it handles government and private requests for user information, though it performed better than MTN, Etisalat, and Ooredoo on these indicators (P3-P8). Airtel India offered some disclosure of what types of user information it collects, shares, and why (P3, P4, P5), but did not disclose how long it retains this information (P6), nor did it disclose whether it enables users to control what information about them is collected and shared, or to obtain the information the company holds about them (P7, P8).
Requests for user information: Like most telecommunications companies, Airtel India disclosed little about how it handles government and private requests for user information (P10-P11). Indian law prevents companies from reporting data on government requests but does not prevent them from disclosing their process for responding to different types of third-party requests for user information.
Security: Airtel India scored above the telecommunications company average on these indicators (P13-P18). But it offered no information about its efforts to address vulnerabilities (P14) and was silent about its process for responding to data breaches (P15). More positively, the company did win full points for its efforts to educate users about security threats (P18).