At NDI we believe that technology can have a positive role to improve civic discussion, fuel grassroots advocacy, and amplify citizen's voices, but in recent times it has become all too clear that the transformations ushered in by major technology companies also pose risks to democracy and human rights. We recently welcomed leaders from the Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) team to NDI to share about their research methodology and Corporate Accountability reports addressing corporate responsibility in emerging digital problems and the rights of users online. Here’s the most recent one, for 2019 that covers major international technology platforms such as Facebook and Google as well as telecommunications providers and hardware companies like Samsung and Verizon.
RDR’s accountability index measures the availability and substance of publicly disclosed commitments and policies made by influential mobile, internet, and telecommunication companies affecting freedom of expression, privacy, and their governance practices. In her presentation, Nathalie Maréchal, a senior policy analyst at RDR, detailed the intricate process involved in ranking the commitments of these companies, whose products and services are used by the majority of the world’s 4.3 billion internet users.
The companies are ranked based on international human rights standards and the ability to meet what RDR defines as good minimum standards of governance, freedom of expression and privacy through their policies. Recent challenges including the abuse of user information, rampant disinformation campaigns, collaboration with government censorship and surveillance, and participation in network shutdowns have all shown the need for a system of corporate accountability.
Though there have been some steps taken by companies to improve policies that may infringe on human rights – thanks in part to the spotlight on these issues created by the RDR Accountability Index– many that are harmful to democracy or human rights remain. These gaps are a major challenge but also presents an opportunity for NDI and other democracy promoting organizations through programming and strategic collaboration with tech corporations, such as the Design 4 Democracy Coalition to address problems exposed by their research and the Index. Additionally, local organizations might use these indicators as a basis for advocacy or pressure campaigns to help these tech giants be more accountable and attentive to the harms these powerful new platforms can cause.