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Human Rights

How are tech and communication companies protecting customer rights?

Rebecca MacKinnon

This is of course, an impossible question to answer without exhaustive exploration.

By rights, I mean users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

As stated, not easy to understand the state of play in this area, which affects all of us.

However, luckily for us expert, author and campaigner Rebecca MacKinnon provides a really helpful view on some of the state of play over at the LSE blog, titled:

Rebecca MacKinnon – Ranking Digital Rights: How can and should ICT sector companies respect Internet users’ rights to freedom of expression and privacy?

Here’s a few excerpts that I thought might pique the interest of readers:

“Vodafone’s blockbuster Law Enforcement Disclosure report, published last week, reveals greater detail than any telecommunications company has previously shared about the extent and nature of government surveillance demands all over the world.
Vodafone is certainly not alone: the problem is rampant across the entire sector. Norway’s Telenor isunder pressure from Thailand’s new military leaders who just seized power in a coup to help monitor and censor any content that might “lead to unrest.” Human Rights Watch recently questioned the French company, Orange, about its operations in Ethiopia whose government jails bloggers for political critiques.
Censorship is also a serious and growing problem for the ICT sector. On the 25th anniversary of China’s Tiananmen Square massacre on Wednesday, LinkedIn blocked mentions of the tragedy for its users in China. Last month, Twitter came under fire from free speech activists for agreeing to censor several tweets in Pakistan at the government’s request. Earlier this year, The Atlantic reported that “the Syrian opposition is disappearing from Facebook” – and not by choice.”
Rebecca runs the Ranking Digital Rights project and is planning to rank firms on the topic. So if you want to contribute to the consultation in some way, check out the links here:
The Ranking Digital Rights project is working on answers to those questions, developing a system rank the world’s most powerful ICT sector companies on free expression and privacy criteria. We have just released a draft methodology on which we are now inviting public comment until July 7th. After further revision followed by a pilot study, we aim to start ranking up to 50 Internet and telecommunications companies in 2015. (We will add up to 50 more device, software, and equipment companies in 2016.)
No doubt when the first ranking comes out we’ll see a couple of things happen. 
First, the global news media will be all over it. Tech and communications firms always make good headlines, as we’ve seen for a decade or more. This will increase pressure on leaders and laggards alike to raise their game for the following ranking. 
Secondly companies ranking poorly will complain the methodology is flawed/unfair or biased in some way. This won’t affect the news coverage one bit, and may make any firm doing so appear recalcitrant in the face of criticism (whether they have a point or not).
This raises an important question to me: How, as a company do you handle it when you feel unfairly judged by activists/rankers/NGOs/whomever? 
Do you keep quiet and communicate your views via backchannels, briefing those you can trust not to accuse you of bitching, on the facts as you see them?
Or do you go public, hard, fast and agressive, as some companies like to do when ranked poorly? 
I think you know what I would advise. I’d go with the former option. 
The other thing that will likely happen is companies will try to figure out how to ‘game’ the methodology for the next round of rankings. 
That’s happened to folks such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes before. This will be tough to do, and I am sure Rebecca and her team will be expecting it from some firms. 
The second year rankings (if annual) will sure make interesting reading. 
Despite my reservations about people trying to compare companies on overall sustainability performance, issues based or focused comparisons are here to stay and seem to be growing rapidly. Better get used to them.

Some, like Behind the Brands, seem to be driving corporate improvements, from what I hear. I suspect Rebecca’s work has already, and will continue to, do the same.