World’s Biggest Internet & Telecom Giants Are failing at Protecting Users’ Digital Rights

 Google has the highest score. Facebook, not so much. Overall, there are no winners. Users are still the losers.

An independent ranking chart pitting the world’s biggest internet and telecommunications giants to look at corporate practices and measures used for protecting the freedom of expression and privacy among millions of users revealed Google to rank the highest. Facebook figures way behind.

The scale is a part of ‘The Ranking Digital Rights 2015 Corporate Accountability Index’ overseen by non-profit Ranking Digital Rights, wherein a number of indicators were accounted for to ultimately provide an aggregate score of the world’s foremost internet and telecom companies’ privacy policies and practices.

Accountability Index

A total of 31 indicators rooted in three categories including privacy, freedom of expression and commitment were assessed. Guidelines for the three categories were borrowed heavily from existing international human rights frameworks.

Right away, the report reveals a damning claim:

We found that many of the world’s most powerful internet and telecommunications companies fail to disclose key information about practices affecting users’ rights.

Quite simply, the index shows user privacy isn’t at the top of the priority list for most tech giants, if at all any.GoogleHQ

Eight of the top publicly listed companies each in the telecom industry and the internet space to a total of 16 were chosen for the index.

Citing the need for substantial improvement, only six companies of the sixteen scored at least 50 percent with Google being the overall highest at 65.

Half the companies in the list scored less than 25 percent to show “a serious deficit of respect for users’ freedom of expression and privacy.”

The director of Ranking Digital Rights, Rebecca MacKinnon said:

When we put the rankings in perspective, it’s clear there are no winners.

Few Key Insights from the Rankings:

  • Microsoft ranked the best among the commitment indicator for its openly disclosed commitments to users’ digital rights and subsequent measures to implement those commitments.
  • Facebook’s lack of disclosures and poor policies with recent acquisitions Instagram and Whatsapp and its own privacy disclosures are lagging behind every other company in the index.
  • Google’s business model wherein customized data is sold to advertisers in a round-about way restricts the search giant from gaining better numbers, despite it being first among all companies ranked.
  • Overall, disclosures relating to collection, sharing, usage and retention of user information are poorly done by most companies and are ambiguous at best.

While the scores of individual companies may be deemed arbitrary, it shows an insightful glimpse into where the world’s foremost internet and communications companies — those who service billions of users globally — are succeeding and failing in their practices and policies.

It isn’t all gloomy, however, as the report highlights every company in the index to, at the very least, have policies in place to safeguard users’ digital rights. Furthermore, companies are also becoming more transparent in revealing information about government requests to look into users’ information, deny services or censor content.

The entire index with detailed insights into all 16 companies ranked across various parameters can be found here.

Ranking Digital Rights is a non-profit research initiative based in Washington D.C. and collaborates with an international network of partners to improve freedom of expression and privacy by focusing on policies and practices of companies, predominantly in the information technology sector.

Images from Shutterstock & Digital Rights Group.

Samburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.