Global — This week six global tech companies — including Vodafone and Kakao — responded to letters from Access Now demanding that they increase transparency around digital rights such as privacy and free expression.
The responses come in the midst of the companies’ Annual General Meetings, their yearly check-in with shareholders. The companies — Axiata, Kakao, Mail.Ru, MTN, Orange, and Vodafone — are based as far afield as South Korea, Russia, South Africa, and France and some responded to questions on these critical issues for the first time. Many provided meaningful responses to key questions raised by a powerful new Corporate Accountability Index developed by the Ranking Digital Rights project.
“We’re excited to see major platforms and providers showing respect for digital rights,” said Peter Micek, Global Policy & Legal Counsel at Access Now. “These six firms made a bold move by responding quickly and making their commitments and perspectives public. We look forward to working with them to implement our recommendations, improve their rankings in the Index, and to build foundations for transparency and accountability online.”
In November 2015, Ranking Digital Rights published its Corporate Accountability Index, which gives the public a digital rights evaluation of 16 of the world’s most powerful internet and telecommunications companies, examining their publicly disclosed commitments, policies, and practices. The project looks at a number of performance indicators to show how these companies can improve their disclosures on issues that impact privacy and free expression in the digital age.
Even the highest-ranking companies have considerable room to improve when it comes to protecting their customers’ fundamental rights. For example, the top-ranked company, Google, scored only 65 out of 100. This year, Access Now worked closely with London-based Business and Human Rights Resources Centre to reach out to these companies with formal letters explaining that fundamental rights are under attack — online as well as offline — and that tech companies must play a role in protecting them. Another four companies — América Móvil, Bharti Airtel, Etisalat, and Tencent — did not respond to the letters despite numerous requests. Access Now will be pressuring the companies in the months to come.
“The clock is ticking,” Micek continued. “Shareholders, customers, and regulators — not to mention human rights defenders — are watching and waiting for meaningful disclosures from these providers. For companies operating in risky environments, vocal and proactive transparency is essential to establishing trust. So far, we’ve heard nothing from América Móvil, Bharti Airtel, Etisalat, and Tencent, while their competitors have engaged publicly. For those companies that responded, it’s time to act on our simple recommendations to build more secure, open, and dependable services that respect people’s rights online in a transparent way.”