Friday, May 18, 2012

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! submit to external free expression check-up

25 April 2012

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! submit to external free expression check-up

The full findings won't be released until 2013, but the report details how external auditors are being granted unprecedented access to the workings of the three Internet giants to see if they are ready and willing to implement GNI's principles on free expression and privacy.

Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists (which belongs to GNI) said, "Six years ago the idea that the titans of the Internet would open up their inner workings to outside scrutiny seemed a stretch."
According to the report, all three companies "need to engage more directly with human rights groups and scrutinise vendors more closely."

GNI specifically faults the tech industry as a whole for insufficient restrictions surrounding "dual-use" hardware technologies, such as routing and network equipment, that could be used for censorship and surveillance purposes.

The report also raised concerns about vendor contracts in place before GNI was established in 2008, as well as the need for tech firms to make specific disclosure to users when their data might be viewed by government authorities. It also recommends better free expression and privacy training for the board of directors.

GNI is a voluntary group of Internet companies, freedom of expression groups, progressive investors, and academics that includes IFEX members CPJ, Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship. It aims to provide a global standard for the Internet and technology sector when dealing with government requests affecting free speech and privacy.

9 May 2012

Facebook joins Internet freedom group


Facebook has become the first official observer at the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a non-government organisation dedicated to promoting Internet freedom and privacy rights, GNI announced last week.

GNI - which counts Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! as founding members - was created in 2008 to help global Internet companies deal with government requests affecting free speech and privacy. IFEX members the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship belong to the initiative.

GNI works with independent assessors to evaluate how companies are handling challenges they face.

According to "Politico", Facebook has resisted pressure from lawmakers to join in the past, and other than the initial members, technology firms have been slow to embrace the organisation.

"The resistance is, in part, due to concern that the organisation is too focused on corporate assessments, something large companies are more apt to do than smaller ones. Critics believe GNI should be looking more at government practices around the world that constrain the Internet," said "Politico".

"Others argue that it is the role of governments to take stands on human rights not private companies," the U.S. political paper added.

Facebook's 12-month observer status means it will participate in GNI sessions but doesn't have to commit to the GNI principles, or submit to an independent assessment. After 12 months, the firm will either have to decide to join or leave GNI.

"If they walk away at the end of 12 months, it will be apparent to people they are walking away from accountability," Arvind Ganesan, a GNI board member from Human Rights Watch, told "Politico".

Meg Roggensack of Human Rights First, another GNI member, said that "because of its size and scope, Facebook is a leader [in] privacy. It's important that they be in the tent not outside of it. This doesn't put them in the tent, but it's an important step and underlines our point that companies can't go it alone."

Facebook vice president for global public policy Marne Levine said the company wants to work with GNI and its members "to promote a free and open Internet."

"Building a better understanding of the value of the open Internet, and its direct impact on job creation, education, and good governance, is critical, and precisely where the work of GNI can be useful," Levine said.

The news comes as Facebook is preparing for its initial public offering, in which the company is projected to raise US$10 billion. In order to grow, Facebook may be interested in entering China, which could present some human rights issues, says "Politico". 

 Source : IFEX

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