2019 Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index

Human Rights – Governance

2019 Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index
Ranking Digital Rights [ a non-profit research initiative housed at the New America
Foundation’s Open Technology Institute]
May 2019 :: 104 pages

Executive Summary [excerpts]
The 2019 Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index evaluated 24 of the world’s most powerful internet, mobile ecosystem, and telecommunications companies on their publicly disclosed commitments and policies affecting freedom of expression and privacy. These companies held a combined market capitalization of nearly USD 5 trillion.1 Their products and services are used by a majority of the world’s 4.3 billion internet users.2..

People have a right to know. Companies have a responsibility to show. The 2019 RDR Index evaluated 24 companies on 35 indicators examining disclosed commitments, policies, and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy, including corporate governance and accountability mechanisms. RDR Index scores represent the extent to which companies are meeting minimum standards. Yet few companies scored above 50 percent. While the results reveal some progress, many problems have persisted since the first RDR Index was launched in 2015.

Progress: Most companies have made meaningful efforts to improve. Of the 22 companies evaluated in the previous RDR Index, 19 companies disclosed more about their commitments, policies, and practices affecting users’ freedom of expression and privacy. Many companies improved their privacy-related policies. New privacy regulations in the European Union and elsewhere drove many companies to improve /disclosures about their handling of user information. Some companies improved their governance and oversight of risks to users. More companies improved their public commitment to respect users’ human rights, 2019 RDR Corporate Accountability Index 4 and took steps to demonstrate oversight and accountability around risks to freedom of expression and privacy.

Persistent problems: People around the world still lack basic information about who controls their ability to connect, speak online, or access information, or who has the ability to access their personal information under what circumstances. Governments are responding to serious threats perpetrated through networked communications technologies. While some regulations have improved company disclosures, policies, and practices, other regulations have made it harder for companies to meet global human rights standards for transparency, responsible practice, and accountability in relation to
freedom of expression and privacy. Even when faced with challenging regulatory environments in many countries, companies must take more affirmative steps to respect users’ rights.

PRIVACY: Most companies still fail to disclose important aspects of how they handle and secure personal data. Despite new regulations in the EU and elsewhere, most of the world’s internet users are still deprived of basic facts about who can access their personal information under what circumstances, and how to control its collection and use. Few companies were found to disclose more than required by law.

GOVERNANCE: Threats to users caused or exacerbated by companies’ business models and deployment of new technologies are not well understood or managed. Most companies are not prepared to identify and mitigate risks such as those associated with targeted advertising and automated decision-making. Nor do companies offer adequate grievance and remedy mechanisms to ensure that harms can be reported and rectified.

EXPRESSION: Transparency about the policing of online speech remains inadequate. As companies struggle to address the harms caused by hate speech and disinformation, they are not sufficiently transparent about who is able to restrict or manipulate content appearing on or transmitted through their platforms and services, how, and under what authority. Insufficient transparency makes it easier for private parties, governments, and companies themselves to abuse their power over online speech and avoid accountability.

GOVERNMENT DEMANDS: Transparency about demands that governments make of companies is also uneven and inadequate. Companies disclosed insufficient information about how they handle government demands for access to user data, and to restrict speech. As a result, in most countries, government censorship and surveillance powers are not subject to adequate oversight to prevent
abuse or maintain public accountability….


Ranking Companies on Digital Rights
MacArthur Foundation Grantee Research
May 16, 2019
The 2019 Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index ranks 24 digital communications companies on 35 indicators of freedom of expression, governance, and privacy. The analysis found most companies had improved in transparency for privacy policies, but they continue to have inadequate governance of new technologies and business models and unclear, inconsistent policies around harmful speech. The Index, supported by MacArthur Foundation, recommends companies go beyond compliance with government regulations and commit to full transparency, more consistent oversight, and consistent applications grievance and remedy mechanism for users…

The 2019 RDR Index ranked 24 companies on 35 indicators across three categories evaluating their disclosure of commitments, policies, and practices affecting freedom of expression and privacy. The RDR Index evaluates policies of the parent company, operating company, and those of selected services (depending on company structure).

Read more about the methodology, research process, and how we score each company:
Download The Full Report