Ranking Digital Rights is a non-profit research initiative working with an international network of partners to promote greater respect for freedom of expression and privacy by focusing on the policies and practices of companies in the information communications technology (ICT) sector.
What do you mean by companies respecting “digital rights”?
Freedom of expression and privacy are human rights that extend to the digital realm. Corporate practices that affect these rights include:
- How companies handle government requests to hand over user data or restrict content;
- How companies enforce their own terms of service;
- What information companies collect about users and how long they retain it; and
- To whom they share or sell user information.
The 2015 Corporate Accountability Index assesses how transparent 16 of the world’s most powerful Internet and telecommunications companies are about the commitments they have made, and the policies and practices they have in place, that affect users’ freedom of expression and privacy. It evaluates what companies share about these practices and offers recommendations for improvement.
Many initiatives already exist to rank companies on critical issues such as carbon emissions, political spending, labor practices, and access to medicine, and they have spurred significant changes to corporate practices. While other organizations have been working over the past decade to establish human rights standards for Internet and telecommunications companies, so far there has been no global ranking on these companies’ respect for freedom of expression and privacy. After consulting with many people in the NGO, corporate, investment, and government sectors around the globe, we determined that such a ranking would be a powerful tool to identify best practices and push the sector to better respect digital rights.
The Index allows users, investors, and activists to compare how – and whether – Internet and telecommunications companies are making substantive efforts to respect freedom of expression and privacy. The intent is to have a constructive dialogue with companies included in the Index, as well as those not included, and to move the dialogue forward in addressing areas of concern.
Our hope is that the Index will lead to greater corporate transparency and public scrutiny of business practices, thus encouraging these companies to demonstrate greater and more consistent respect for Internet users’ rights around the globe.
- Facebook, Inc. – USA
- Google, Inc. – USA
- Kakao Corp. – South Korea
- Mail.ru Group – Russia
- Microsoft Corp. – USA
- Tencent Holdings Ltd. – China
- Twitter, Inc. – USA
- Yahoo! Inc. – USA
- América Móvil S.A.B. de CV – Mexico
- AT&T, Inc. – USA
- Axiata Group Berhad – Malaysia
- Bharti Airtel Ltd. – India
- Etisalat Group – United Arab Emirates
- MTN Group Ltd. – South Africa
- Orange – France
- Vodafone Group Plc – United Kingdom
Our goal was to select a representative group of companies that collectively hold the power to shape the digital lives of billions of people across the globe. To do so, we selected eight publicly listed Internet companies and eight publicly listed telecommunications companies based on factors including geographic reach and diversity, user base, company size, and market share. The Index examined disclosure at the parent company level as well as disclosure related to one to three of the company’s services.
Our inaugural Index includes 16 companies, which was the maximum number of companies we could evaluate with existing resources. We only selected companies that offer Internet or telecommunications products/services as their primary form of business. In the next phase of our ranking we hope to add a broader range of companies in the technology sector, including device/hardware manufacturers and software producers.
- Technology users can use this to inform themselves about possible risks and guide their decisions about which digital services they want to use.
- Advocates can use this information to demand more transparency and action from companies.
- Policymakers can use it to improve laws and regulations in order to ensure that they boost rather than hinder companies’ ability to respect users’ rights.
- Responsible investors can use the data – and the Index methodology more broadly – to factor company performance on respect for online freedom of expression and privacy into their investment decisions. Investors can also use the research to engage with companies and minimize risks.
The Index provides concrete and measurable steps that Internet and telecommunications companies – as well as other companies throughout the sector – can take to improve how and what they disclose about policies and practices that impact digital rights, instead of having to come up with the answers on their own.
By disclosing information in a more easily accessible manner, companies can empower users to make informed decisions about how they use technology. This will help build trust between users and companies in the long run.
The indicators draw heavily on guidelines established in international human rights frameworks, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. They also draw from a broad range of human rights standards both for global business in general and within the ICT sector, such as those set out by the Global Network Initiative. Ranking Digital Rights worked with international experts and the leading environmental, social, and governance (ESG) research firm Sustainalytics to score company performance.
Ranking Digital Rights seeks to incentivize companies to be more transparent so that everyone—advocates, researchers, journalists, policy makers, investors, and users—can understand the extent to which different companies respect freedom of expression and privacy. Potential users cannot make informed decisions about whether or how to use a given product or service when policies and practices are not made public. Only once policymakers, investors, or civil society advocates know companies’ policies and practices can these stakeholders decide whether or not they agree or disagree with them, and make appropriate policy, investment, and advocacy decisions. Moreover, public disclosure enables researchers and journalists to investigate and verify the accuracy of company statements.
The Corporate Accountability Index evaluates companies on the commitments, policies, and practices they have publicly disclosed. Our methodology is based on the belief that measuring disclosure is a powerful starting point for activists around the world to verify whether – and how well – companies’ stated policies are actually being carried out.
While Ranking Digital Rights does not track the implementation of stated policies, we look forward to hearing from researchers who are carrying out in-depth investigations, local testing, and monitoring, to verify companies’ statements and track how policies and practices affect users.
- The Index will highlight what companies are doing well and cite specific examples of how they are failing to meet basic standards, potentially jeopardizing users’ freedom of expression and privacy. Our hope is that companies will face a stronger market incentive to phase out these harmful practices and deliver products and services in a manner that respects human rights.
- The Index will encourage companies to consider freedom of expression and privacy in every aspect of their business operations and show they are making genuine efforts to respect users’ rights. It will also serve as a tool for responsible investors to make informed decisions on the risks and opportunities around freedom of expression and privacy.
Ranking Digital Rights is is an independent project that is housed at New America’s Open Technology Institute. Neither New America’s board nor its CEO had any involvement in any part of the research, including the selection and scoring of companies. All funding for the Corporate Accountability Index research, and for the salaries of Ranking Digital Rights staff, came entirely from independent foundations. You can see a complete list of Ranking Digital Rights’ funders here.
All funding for the Corporate Accountability Index research, and for the salaries of Ranking Digital Rights staff, came entirely from independent foundations. You can see a complete list of Ranking Digital Rights’ funders here.
Updated February 29, 2016