No one enjoys reading the long, dense, and legalese-filled terms of services of large tech companies. However, research initiative Ranking Digital Rights did–and found that the world’s biggest tech companies are falling short when it comes to user privacy and freedom of speech. The nonprofit initiative surveyed companies including Google, Yahoo, Vodafone, and AT&T for the project.
In a statement, Ranking Digital Rights’ Rebecca MacKinnon said that “When we put the rankings in perspective, it’s clear there are no winners. Our hope is that the Index will lead to greater corporate transparency, which can empower users to make more informed decisions about how they use technology.”
One of the major issues addressed in the report is that users may not be aware of what a company’s terms of service actually contains. For example, Facebook–the lowest ranked American company in the study–was criticized for unclear language in the user agreements for WhatsApp and Instagram alongside “no information about the volume and nature of content that it restricts or removes in the course of enforcing its terms of service.”
Importantly, the study’s researchers only took into account a company’s policies–not their actual actions. According to the organization’s metrics, Google (65%) and Vodafone (54%) are the top-rated Internet and telecommunications companies, respectively, while Mail.ru (13%) and Etisalat (14%) rank lowest. Companies with a score of less than 25%, the study says, show “A serious deficit of respect for users’ freedom of expression and privacy.”
Ranking Digital Rights hopes the information will be used for as a tool for investors, customers, policymakers, and the companies themselves to decide on best practices.