Digital human rights are next frontier for fund groups [subscription only]

Author: Financial Times, Published on: 12 November 2019

Digital human rights are fast becoming the latest front in the debate around fund managers’ ethical investments efforts... Attention on technology groups began with concerns around data privacy, but emerging focal points are targeted advertising and how companies deal with online extremism... 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... 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 [Lauren Compere, director of shareholder engagement at Boston Common Asset Management].

... One rare resource available is the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index... which rates tech companies based on a range of metrics... Another challenge is the pace of technological advancements. “The concern is that technological changes are being quickly driven through by companies but sometimes we don’t stop and ask what is the human rights impact,” said John Howchin, secretary-general of the Swedish AP funds’ ethics council.

[I]nvestors are grappling with the fact that facial recognition can also be used for unethical purposes... “What worries investors [about AI] is that the technology is being developed in a vacuum — we’re not seeing a global norm around it,” said Ms Compere. Several companies, including Google, Microsoft and IBM, have taken initial steps to protect against unintended risks by adopting codes of AI ethics. Microsoft has been particularly vocal, calling last year for “a government initiative to regulate the proper use of facial recognition technology”... The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility... filed a resolution at Amazon calling for it to stop selling Rekognition to governments until it had completed a review into whether it posed a threat to civil and human rights. Other investors want companies to integrate human rights considerations into their formal risk management assessments and make senior executives accountable for this.

Read the full post here

Related companies: Alphabet Facebook Google (part of Alphabet) IBM Microsoft