Human Rights in the Age of Platforms


Book by Rikke Frank Jørgensen: “Today such companies as Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter play an increasingly important role in how users form and express opinions, encounter information, debate, disagree, mobilize, and maintain their privacy. What are the human rights implications of an online domain managed by privately owned platforms? According to the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, adopted by the UN Human Right Council in 2011, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and to carry out human rights due diligence. But this goal is dependent on the willingness of states to encode such norms into business regulations and of companies to comply. In this volume, contributors from across law and internet and media studies examine the state of human rights in today’s platform society.

The contributors consider the “datafication” of society, including the economic model of data extraction and the conceptualization of privacy. They examine online advertising, content moderation, corporate storytelling around human rights, and other platform practices. Finally, they discuss the relationship between human rights law and private actors, addressing such issues as private companies’ human rights responsibilities and content regulation…(More)”.

Steering AI and Advanced ICTs for Knowledge Societies: a Rights, Openness, Access, and Multi-stakeholder Perspective


Report by Unesco: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming the veiled decision-maker of our times. The diverse technical applications loosely associated with this label drive more and more of our lives. They scan billions of web pages, digital trails and sensor-derived data within micro-seconds, using algorithms to prepare and produce significant decisions.

AI and its constitutive elements of data, algorithms, hardware, connectivity and storage exponentially increase the power of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). This is a major opportunity for Sustainable Development, although risks also need to be addressed.

It should be noted that the development of AI technology is part of the wider ecosystem of Internet and other advanced ICTs including big data, Internet of Things, blockchains, etc. To assess AI and other advanced ICTs’ benefits and challenges – particularly for communications and information – a useful approach is UNESCO’s Internet Universality ROAM principles.These principles urge that digital development be aligned with human Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multi-stakeholder governance to guide the ensemble of values, norms, policies, regulations, codes and ethics that govern the development and use of AI….(More)”

Contract for the Web


About: “The Web was designed to bring people together and make knowledge freely available. It has changed the world for good and improved the lives of billions. Yet, many people are still unable to access its benefits and, for others, the Web comes with too many unacceptable costs.

Everyone has a role to play in safeguarding the future of the Web. The Contract for the Web was created by representatives from over 80 organizations, representing governments, companies and civil society, and sets out commitments to guide digital policy agendas. To achieve the Contract’s goals, governments, companies, civil society and individuals must commit to sustained policy development, advocacy, and implementation of the Contract’s text…(More)”.

The Right to Be Seen


Anne-Marie Slaughter and Yuliya Panfil at Project Syndicate: “While much of the developed world is properly worried about myriad privacy outrages at the hands of Big Tech and demanding – and securing – for individuals a “right to be forgotten,” many around the world are posing a very different question: What about the right to be seen?

Just ask the billion people who are locked out of services we take for granted – things like a bank account, a deed to a house, or even a mobile phone account – because they lack identity documents and thus can’t prove who they are. They are effectively invisible as a result of poor data.

The ability to exercise many of our most basic rights and privileges – such as the right to vote, drive, own property, and travel internationally – is determined by large administrative agencies that rely on standardized information to determine who is eligible for what. For example, to obtain a passport it is typically necessary to present a birth certificate. But what if you do not have a birth certificate? To open a bank account requires proof of address. But what if your house doesn’t have an address?

The inability to provide such basic information is a barrier to stability, prosperity, and opportunity. Invisible people are locked out of the formal economy, unable to vote, travel, or access medical and education benefits. It’s not that they are undeserving or unqualified, it’s that they are data poor.

In this context, the rich digital record provided by our smartphones and other sensors could become a powerful tool for good, so long as the risks are acknowledged. These gadgets, which have become central to our social and economic lives, leave a data trail that for many of us is the raw material that fuels what Harvard’s Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism.” Our Google location history shows exactly where we live and work. Our email activity reveals our social networks. Even the way we hold our smartphone can give away early signs of Parkinson’s.

But what if citizens could harness the power of these data for themselves, to become visible to administrative gatekeepers and access the rights and privileges to which they are entitled? Their virtual trail could then be converted into proof of physical facts.

That is beginning to happen. In India, slum dwellers are using smartphone location data to put themselves on city maps for the first time and register for addresses that they can then use to receive mail and register for government IDs. In Tanzania, citizens are using their mobile payment histories to build their credit scores and access more traditional financial services. And in Europe and the United States, Uber drivers are fighting for their rideshare data to advocate for employment benefits….(More)”.

Surveillance giants: how the business model of Google and Facebook threatens human rights


Report by Amnesty International: “Google and Facebook help connect the world and provide crucial services to billions. To participate meaningfully in today’s economy and society, and to realize their human rights, people rely on access to the internet—and to the tools Google and Facebook offer. But Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost. The companies’ surveillance-based business model is inherently incompatible with the right to privacy and poses a threat to a range of other rights including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination….(More)”.

Responsible Data for Children


New Site and Report by UNICEF and The GovLab: “RD4C seeks to build awareness regarding the need for special attention to data issues affecting children—especially in this age of changing technology and data linkage; and to engage with governments, communities, and development actors to put the best interests of children and a child rights approach at the center of our data activities. The right data in the right hands at the right time can significantly improve outcomes for children. The challenge is to understand the potential risks and ensure that the collection, analysis and use of data on children does not undermine these benefits.

Drawing upon field-based research and established good practice, RD4C aims to highlight and support best practice data responsibility; identify challenges and develop practical tools to assist practitioners in evaluating and addressing them; and encourage a broader discussion on actionable principles, insights, and approaches for responsible data management.

Digital human rights are next frontier for fund groups


Siobhan Riding at the Financial Times: “Politicians publicly grilling technology chiefs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is all too familiar for investors. “There isn’t a day that goes by where you don’t see one of the tech companies talking to Congress or being highlighted for some kind of controversy,” says Lauren Compere, director of shareholder engagement at Boston Common Asset Management, a $2.4bn fund group that invests heavily in tech stocks.

Fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal that engulfed Facebook was a wake-up call for investors such as Boston Common, underlining the damaging social effects of digital technology if left unchecked. “These are the red flags coming up for us again and again,” says Ms Compere.

Digital human rights are fast becoming the latest front in the debate around fund managers’ ethical investments efforts. Fund managers have come under pressure in recent years to divest from companies that can harm human rights — from gun manufacturers or retailers to operators of private prisons. The focus is now switching to the less tangible but equally serious human rights risks lurking in fund managers’ technology holdings. Attention on technology groups began with concerns around data privacy, but emerging focal points are targeted advertising and how companies deal with online extremism.

Following a terrorist attack in New Zealand this year where the shooter posted video footage of the incident online, investors managing assets of more than NZ$90bn (US$57bn) urged Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to take more action in dealing with violent or extremist content published on their platforms. The Investor Alliance for Human Rights is currently co-ordinating a global engagement effort with Alphabet over the governance of its artificial intelligence technology, data privacy and online extremism.

Investor engagement on the topic of digital human rights is in its infancy. One roadblock for investors has been the difficulty they face in detecting and measuring what the actual risks are. “Most investors do not have a very good understanding of the implications of all of the issues in the digital space and don’t have sufficient research and tools to properly assess them — and that goes for companies too,” said Ms Compere.

One rare resource available is the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index, established in 2015, which rates tech companies based on a range of metrics. The development of such tools gives investors more information on the risk associated with technological advancements, enabling them to hold companies to account when they identify risks and questionable ethics….(More)”.

The Rising Threat of Digital Nationalism


Essay by Akash Kapur in the Wall Street Journal: “Fifty years ago this week, at 10:30 on a warm night at the University of California, Los Angeles, the first email was sent. It was a decidedly local affair. A man sat in front of a teleprinter connected to an early precursor of the internet known as Arpanet and transmitted the message “login” to a colleague in Palo Alto. The system crashed; all that arrived at the Stanford Research Institute, some 350 miles away, was a truncated “lo.”

The network has moved on dramatically from those parochial—and stuttering—origins. Now more than 200 billion emails flow around the world every day. The internet has come to represent the very embodiment of globalization—a postnational public sphere, a virtual world impervious and even hostile to the control of sovereign governments (those “weary giants of flesh and steel,” as the cyberlibertarian activist John Perry Barlow famously put it in his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996).

But things have been changing recently. Nicholas Negroponte, a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab, once said that national law had no place in cyberlaw. That view seems increasingly anachronistic. Across the world, nation-states have been responding to a series of crises on the internet (some real, some overstated) by asserting their authority and claiming various forms of digital sovereignty. A network that once seemed to effortlessly defy regulation is being relentlessly, and often ruthlessly, domesticated.

From firewalls to shutdowns to new data-localization laws, a specter of digital nationalism now hangs over the network. This “territorialization of the internet,” as Scott Malcomson, a technology consultant and author, calls it, is fundamentally changing its character—and perhaps even threatening its continued existence as a unified global infrastructure.

The phenomenon of digital nationalism isn’t entirely new, of course. Authoritarian governments have long sought to rein in the internet. China has been the pioneer. Its Great Firewall, which restricts what people can read and do online, has served as a model for promoting what the country calls “digital sovereignty.” China’s efforts have had a powerful demonstration effect, showing other autocrats that the internet can be effectively controlled. China has also proved that powerful tech multinationals will exchange their stated principles for market access and that limiting online globalization can spur the growth of a vibrant domestic tech industry.

Several countries have built—or are contemplating—domestic networks modeled on the Chinese example. To control contact with the outside world and suppress dissident content, Iran has set up a so-called “halal net,” North Korea has its Kwangmyong network, and earlier this year, Vladimir Putin signed a “sovereign internet bill” that would likewise set up a self-sufficient Runet. The bill also includes a “kill switch” to shut off the global network to Russian users. This is an increasingly common practice. According to the New York Times, at least a quarter of the world’s countries have temporarily shut down the internet over the past four years….(More)”

A Constitutional Right to Public Information


Paper by Chad G. Marzen: “In the wake of the 2013 United States Supreme Court decision of McBurney v. Young (569 U.S. 221), this Article calls for policymakers at the federal and state levels to ensure governmental records remain open and accessible to the public. It urges policymakers to call not only for strengthening of the Freedom of Information Act and the various state public records law, but to pursue an amendment to the United States Constitution providing a right to public information.

This Article proposes a draft of such an amendment:

The right to public information, being a necessary and vital part of democracy, shall be a fundamental right of the people. The right of the people to inspect and/or copy records of government, and to be provided notice of and attend public meetings of government, shall not unreasonably be restricted.

This Article analyzes the benefits of the amendment and concludes the enshrining of the right to public information in both the United States Constitution as well as various state constitutions will ensure greater access of public records and documents to the general public, consistent with the democratic value of open, transparent government….(More)”.

World stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia, warns UN human rights expert


UN Press Release: “A UN human rights expert has expressed concerns about the emergence of the “digital welfare state”, saying that all too often the real motives behind such programs are to slash welfare spending, set up intrusive government surveillance systems and generate profits for private corporate interests.

“As humankind moves, perhaps inexorably, towards the digital welfare future it needs to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia,” the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, says in a report to be presented to the General Assembly on Friday.

The digital welfare state is commonly presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure that citizens benefit from new technologies, experience more efficient government, and enjoy higher levels of well-being. But, Alston said, the digitization of welfare systems has very often been used to promote deep reductions in the overall welfare budget, a narrowing of the beneficiary pool, the elimination of some services, the introduction of demanding and intrusive forms of conditionality, the pursuit of behavioural modification goals, the imposition of stronger sanctions regimes, and a complete reversal of the traditional notion that the state should be accountable to the individual….(More)”.