Tech Companies Get Poor Marks For Data Privacy - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IoT
IoT
Government // Cybersecurity
News
11/5/2015
10:06 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Tech Companies Get Poor Marks For Data Privacy

An advocacy organization finds gaps in corporate support for freedom of expression and data protection.

Ways To Quit Sitting: 8 Unique Desk Options
Ways To Quit Sitting: 8 Unique Desk Options
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The world's leading Internet and telecommunications companies are failing to adequately protect freedom of expression and privacy, according to Ranking Digital Rights.

The Washington, D.C.-based non-profit on Wednesday released its inaugural Corporate Accountability Index, which presents an analysis of corporate commitments, policies, and practices with regard to international human rights frameworks, such as the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Global Network Initiative.

The group, funded by several prominent foundations, analyzed 16 tech companies to determine practices including:

  • how they handle government demands for data;
  • how they enforce their own terms of service;
  • what information they collect;
  • how long they retain data; and
  • how data is shared or sold.

Its findings, based on 31 indicators, show there's considerable room for improvement.

(Image: Ranking Digital Rights)

(Image: Ranking Digital Rights)

"When we put the rankings in perspective, it's clear there are no winners," said Rebecca MacKinnon, director of Ranking Digital Rights, in a statement. "Our hope is that the Index will lead to greater corporate transparency, which can empower users to make more informed decisions about how they use technology."

Google, a founding member of the Global Network Initiative, received the highest score, 65%. Other companies scoring 50% or above include: Yahoo (58%), Microsoft (56%), Vodaphone (54%), AT&T (50%), and Twitter (50%).

Seven of the 16 companies scored 22% or less, which Ranking Digital Rights characterized as demonstrating "a serious deficit of respect for users' freedom of expression and privacy." These include: America Movil (22%), MTN (18%), Bharti Airtel (17%), Tencent (16%), Axiata (16%), and Etisalat (14%).

Mail.ru, the Russian email service, scored 13%, the lowest among the companies evaluated. Ranking Digital Rights attributes part of its low rating to Russian law, which requires that companies implement the government's SORM surveillance system to provide authorities with access to customer data. The legal environment in Russia, the group suggested, fails to provide businesses with incentives to recognize the rights of Internet users.

Laws play a significant part in how companies fared in the ranking. In its evaluation of Google, Ranking Digital Rights noted that "aspects of U.S. law and the company's business model would need to change in order for Google to achieve a perfect score."

Yet, if much of the legislation making headlines in recent months is adopted, it could further reduce companies' scores. For example, a new draft of the United Kingdom's Investigatory Powers Act would require that Internet service providers store the Internet activities of subscribers for a year, and produce that data on demand, without a warrant. In the United States, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), decried by privacy groups but passed by the Senate and awaiting a vote in the House, would require companies to share data with the government, and would immunize them for doing so. And France is close to passing an Internet communications bill that would allow mass surveillance.

In order for companies to respect speech and privacy rights, governments first must allow such rights to exist.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
soozyg
50%
50%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
11/13/2015 | 12:07:52 PM
Re: the law
@kstaron, I understand your grievances; however I'm not sure any of us would do any better on for the government given the circumstances, issues, and complications they're probably facing.
kstaron
50%
50%
kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
11/11/2015 | 11:06:37 AM
Re: the law
All of these tech companies get a failing grade, and the governments responsible for some of those poor marks also get a failing grade. As a people we need to lobby, vote, annoy congressmen and so on until we feel our data privacy is balanced with the need for finding criminals.
danielcawrey
50%
50%
danielcawrey,
User Rank: Ninja
11/9/2015 | 3:02:35 PM
Re: the law
It's really a tough balance for technology companies.

They want to protect privacy. But they also need data from users in order to understand behavior. And they also need to be able to provide governments with said data when asked, because they have no choice. Governments like this, because it's easy for them to get information about people this way – even if some don't think that's entirely fair. 
soozyg
50%
50%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
11/5/2015 | 10:32:41 AM
the law
aspects of U.S. law and the company's business model would need to change in order for Google to achieve a perfect score.

Yes, there's always the delicate balance of maintaining user rights versus securing those rights.
Slideshows
Reflections on Tech in 2019
James M. Connolly, Editorial Director, InformationWeek and Network Computing,  12/9/2019
Slideshows
What Digital Transformation Is (And Isn't)
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  12/4/2019
Commentary
Watch Out for New Barriers to Faster Software Development
Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer,  12/3/2019
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Video
Current Issue
The Cloud Gets Ready for the 20's
This IT Trend Report explores how cloud computing is being shaped for the next phase in its maturation. It will help enterprise IT decision makers and business leaders understand some of the key trends reflected emerging cloud concepts and technologies, and in enterprise cloud usage patterns. Get it today!
Slideshows
Flash Poll