Sustainable business in relation to our physical environment has become the norm. Today, companies commonly make extensive efforts to take environmental and social responsibility for their business activities. However, most companies do not pay the same respect to our digital environment. Internet and telecommunications corporations need to contribute to creating an information ecosystem in which our fundamental human rights, such as privacy and freedom of expression, are respected. The next step toward transparency about what companies are doing and how it affects our lives is to get companies held accountable for our digital environment. A powerful lever to bring this change and to get companies to do the right thing is the Ranking Digital Rights 2017 Corporate Accountability Index.
On March 23, the nonprofit research project Ranking Digital Rights (RDR), housed at New America’s Open Technology Institute, launched the results of their second Corporate Accountability Index, following RDR’s inaugural Index published in 2015. The 2017 Index ranks 22 of the world’s most powerful internet, mobile, and telecommunications companies on their disclosed commitments and policies affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy.
Rebecca MacKinnon, Director of the Ranking Digital Rights Project, presented this year’s key findings during the launch event held in Washington D.C. yesterday morning, followed by a vivid panel discussion starring Melissa Brown, a leading Asian Responsible Investment analyst and partner, and Arvind Ganesan, Director of the Business and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch.
The overall results show, as they did in 2015 already, that companies do not disclose enough information to their users about policies and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy – there is a lot of room for improvement for all ranked companies, including Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Vodafone and AT&T, among others. Graphics indicate, there are no real winners in this ranking; instead, there are still many risks for users regarding surveillance, collection of their personal data and restriction of user generated content.
However, some companies have made meaningful improvements since the first Index was launched in 2015. This confirms that independent rankings such as the Corporate Accountability Index are excellent monitoring and advocacy tools to increase public pressure on companies to protect users’ rights. The openly accessible methodology and indicators can also serve companies internally as a framework to evaluate and improve their policies and disclosure practices regarding governance of privacy and freedom of expression.
See key findings and company highlights of the 2017 Index.
What practical and immediate steps can companies take to improve? Read RDR’s recommendations to companies drawn from the new report.