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30 Oct 2018

Rebecca MacKinnon & Melissa Brown, Ranking Digital Rights

Ranking Digital Rights' Investor Update highlights that good governance in ICT sector requires focus on consumer privacy & expression-related risks

"Poor digital rights governance: Users, investors, and societies pay the price," 29 Oct 2018

2018 taught us that good corporate governance now requires broader understanding of material risks in the information communications and technology (ICT) sector... Until recently, risk assessments in the sector have generally focused on regulatory compliance and technical security... events of the past year have underscored the need for companies to wake up to consumer privacy and expression-related risks... How should corporate boards exercise responsible oversight over these digital rights risks? The focus should be on oversight of how business models affect users’ rights, including privacy and expression. At a minimum, better governance must start with tangible improvements in company disclosure of policies and practices affecting both privacy and how companies manage and police online speech and content... Companies should carry out regular and rigorous impact assessments on all aspects of the business that might either cause or facilitate harm to users—individually or collectively.

... Poor disclosures—especially when signaling an underlying lack of adequate governance practices—were red flags that predicted companies’ failure to anticipate and mitigate risks to users’ expression and privacy rights that have turned out to be costly for companies in 2018 and beyond... Companies that operate the world’s most powerful social media platforms showed no evidence of risk assessment of negative impact on users caused by their business models... 2018 was the harbinger of more to come. From an investor perspective, the Silicon Valley internet giants can no longer be considered low risk. [mentions Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft & Twitter]

[See here for results of 2018 Ranking Digital Rights survey and company responses.]