This week I look at data on how transparent digital platforms – like Google, Facebook and Twitter among others – are in their business practices. This is an interesting topic for me, as I researched data governance models and how they affected media freedom across different countries.
About the Data
Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index (RDR Index) measures how accountable digital platforms and telecommunication companies in their businesses towards consumers in three broad areas: governance, freedom of expression and privacy. It examines 26 companies, including 14 digital platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft, and 12 telecommunications companies. In this post, I will be looking at data only about platforms.
What index essentially measures is the level of transparency that companies practice. Technically, it measures the percentage of companies’ disclosure across 58 indicators. To understand, what exactly the creators mean by disclosure, lets see on their definition of “clearly disclose”:
Clearly disclose(s) — The company presents or explains its policies or practices in its public-facing materials in a way that is easy for users to find and understand.
This means that the index avoids making normative judgements, but presents the readers with a chance to judge for themselves. When looking at indicators below, important mental question that helps to understand them is to always ask, “To what extent the company discloses procedure/policy in specific issue?” For example, indicator F5a is called “Government demands to restrict content or accounts,” but what it actually means is to what extent (percentage) companies clearly disclose information/policies about government demands to restrict content.
Each company is measured on the following scale:
- Yes/full disclosure = 100
- Partial = 50
- No = 0
- No disclosure found = 0
- N/A = excluded from score and averages
Companies score on each of 58 indicators, then these indicators are separated into three categories specified above, and companies receive a final score for each category and the general single score as average of three of them.
In this post, I will look only at some indicators that present interest to me. To look for general ranking, check the website here.
Data Requests and Data Collection Policies
First thing first — not everything in the dataset caught my interest. Out of 58 indicators, I picked 13 of them:
- F5a. Government demands to restrict content or accounts
- F5b. Private requests for content or account restriction
- F6. Data about government demands for restriction
- F7. Data about private requests for restriction
- P3a. Collection of user information
- P4. Sharing of user information
- P5. Purpose for collecting, inferring, and sharing user information
- P7. Users’ control over their own user information
- P10a. Government demands for user information
- P10b. Private requests for user information
- P11a. Data about government demands for user information
- P11b. Data about private requests for user information
- P12. Third-party requests for user information
The result is graph below. Indicators P3a, P4 and P5 are in red and measure how transparent companies are in disclosing their procedures and purposes of collecting user data. Other indicators (all in blue) measure how transparent companies are in disclosing information about how they deal with government and private organizations request for user data and content restriction.
Notably, Twitter provides highest disclosure on data request procedures, while South Korea’s Kakao and China’s Tencent score highest on user data collection transparency.
Platforms and Digital Rights
Next, I looked at overall ranking of platforms in each of three categories.
Twitter leads in freedom of expression transparency, Apple in privacy, and Microsoft - in governance. Microsoft is the best performing across all three categories: in consistently scores within top 3 in each category. Google consistently scores in top 5 across all categories. Interestingly, Amazon is always second worst in each category, score lower than Tencent, Alibaba and Russia’s Mail.Ru.
Services and Digital Rights
The most interesting part of the dataset — rankings of individual services, like WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube. Results are in the graph below — try to find your favorite service and see how it scores on privacy, governance and freedom of expression.