Accountability is First Step to Ensuring Data Privacy, Protecting Human Rights, Expert Says

Jessica Dheere said surveillance-based business models are negatively impacting consumers’ digital rights.

Accountability is First Step to Ensuring Data Privacy, Protecting Human Rights, Expert Says
Jessica Dheere, director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights program

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2021 — An expert on a Broadband Breakfast panel said big tech’s business models infringe on consumer’s digital rights.

The world’s most powerful technology companies, including telecommunications providers, have “a lot of room” for improvement in protecting consumer privacy, said Jessica Dheere, director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights program, said at the December 1 virtual event.

Dheere said accountability is an essential first step to mandating transparency about company policies to improve consumer privacy. Dheere’s remarks come as experts have recently called for the Federal Trade Commission to take action on internet service providers’ privacy practices.

The lack of progress by technology companies in data privacy is not exclusive to advertisement platforms. Dheere said telecommunications providers have a responsibility equal to ad platforms to protect their users’ privacy.

“Telecommunications providers have lots of data that ad companies don’t have: geographic location, billing information, credit history, and all sorts of things Facebook doesn’t have by default,” Dheere said.

When companies combine data sources across devices or through a third-party sale of consumer data, companies can create a “picture” of the person they target. “In some ways, telecommunications providers should maybe have stronger obligations,” she added.

Privacy index

To measure privacy, Dheere pointed to the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index (RDR Index), which ranks the world’s most powerful technology companies and evaluates related policies against human rights-based standards. The RDR index uses guiding principles for human rights to evaluate companies’ privacy standards.

“Privacy is a fundamental human right, and enables the enjoinment of other rights, such as the first amendment freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly,” Dheere said.

To evaluate technology companies’ privacy standards, the RDR uses standardized indicators to produce a privacy score. The RDR index analyzes the clarity of privacy agreements; the companies’ privacy policies; whether they notify users of changes to policies; how they collect and handle user information; and whether users have control over how their information is used and sold. Within the past two years, no company has scored over sixty percent in the RDR’s privacy category.

“Looking at the indicators [the RDR index] uses, there is no distinction for what companies should do for their users,” Dheere stated. The RDR ranking system analyzes telecommunications companies network management standards. The Index analyzes factors such as whether the company is committed to net neutrality in their policies and how they operate in network shutdown events, which can be important in areas where the government manages shutdowns during cultural or political crisis.

Popular Tags