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17 Jan 2022

Investor Alliance for Human Rights

65 investors representing over USD8.7T call on EU to develop digital rights regulation

13 January 2021

In a statement organized by the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, 65 signatories representing over US$8.7 trillion (€7.6 trillion) in assets under management and advisement voiced support for rights-respecting internet regulation in the European Union...

Next week, the European Parliament will agree on the Digital Services Act (DSA), a set of new rules that govern digital services in Europe. The DSA is expected to have a major impact on how digital markets operate and on how online platforms affect human rights in the digital age.

“Under the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, governments have a duty to protect against rights abuses, and leaving digital rights regulation up to voluntary corporate measures can lead to significant gaps in that protection,” said Anita Dorett, Director of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights. “Technology companies need regulation in order to fulfill their obligation to respect users’ digital rights and to level the playing field for all parties; investors rely on such regulations to make rights-respecting investment decisions.”

Investors are concerned with the weak governance and lack of transparency and accountability affecting people’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression, including a lack of users’ control over their own information and how it is used online.

The investor statement calls on Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to vote for a DSA that protects the digital rights of users and empowers them to be in control of their online lives.

More specifically, investors call on MEPs to support provisions that prevent ICT companies from tracking and profiling users to target them with online advertising. The DSA should help create a market environment that enables the provision of rights-respecting and tracking-free ad targeting such as contextual advertising where ads are placed based on keywords, the topic, or the content of a webpage, instead of the browsing behavior or personal data of users.

Many tech companies have built their business models on surveillance-based online advertising enabled by algorithms. Those systems use a global system of commercial surveillance that may violate privacy and threaten the public interest by collecting user data without explicit consent, enabling the spreading of misinformation and fueling hate speech and other discriminatory behavior.

In addition, investors call on MEPs to ensure that the DSA respects the right to free speech and does not impose obligations that lead to the removal of people’s legal online speech as a result of ICT companies trying to avoid the risk of legal liability.

Investors are calling on the European Union to develop digital regulations including the DSA that are in line with the recommendations of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

As a regulation for the whole European Digital Single Market, the DSA will affect internet rules far beyond the EU’s borders. Global investors care about and support regulation respectful of human rights and hope the European Parliament will help the EU to lead this new field of regulation by setting a rights-respecting example.