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24 Feb 2021

Rebecca MacKinnon

Chinese tech giants among most improved companies in digital rights index despite regulatory constraints

"Chinese tech giants can change: But the state is still their number one stakeholder", 14 April 2021

[...] Chinese companies have taken meaningful steps over the past five years to protect consumer privacy and security from threats that are unrelated to Chinese government surveillance. They have also tried to be a bit more open with users about how content is moderated for reasons other than government censorship requirements. As a result, between 2018 and 2019 Tencent and Baidu were among the most improved companies in the RDR Index, albeit still hovering at or near the bottom of the ranking.

Their progress shows that Chinese companies can and do respond to pressure from foreign governments, investors, and even users. But the extent to which they can improve policies and practices affecting users’ human rights is severely handicapped by China’s legal and political system. The hard reality is that Chinese companies are powerless to protect users (whether they are in China or abroad) from digital rights violations by one of the most powerful—and unaccountable—governments in the world. [...]

When we first added Baidu to the second RDR Index in 2017, it ranked dead last among digital platforms, and remained there in 2018. Then in 2019 Baidu distinguished itself as the second-most improved company in the entire RDR Index. For 2020 Baidu continued to be one of the most improved companies, pulling ahead of Tencent for the first time in the overall ranking. [...]

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