Amnesty International issued a scathing indictment of the world’s dominant internet corporations, arguing in a new report that Google and Facebook should be forced to abandon what it calls their surveillance-based business model because it is “predicated on human rights abuse.”
The London-based global rights group said in the 60-page report published Thursday that the business model of what it calls the “Surveillance Giants” is “inherently incompatible with the right to privacy.” Google and Facebook likewise threaten a range of other rights, including freedom expression and the right to equality and non-discrimination, the group said.
“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives – amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people. Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
- Read the full report: Follow this link to Amnesty International’s report.
Tools of the trade
“Google and Facebook have established dominance over the primary channels that most of the world – outside of China – relies on to realize their rights online. The various platforms they own – including Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, YouTube and WhatsApp –facilitate the ways people seek and share information, engage in debate and participate in society. Google’s Android also underpins most of the world’s smartphones,” the organization says.
“While other Big Tech companies – including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft – have accrued significant power in other areas, it is the platforms owned by Facebook and Google that have become fundamental to how people engage and interact with each other – effectively a new global public square.”
The report said the company’s practice of vacuuming up personal data in order to feed voracious advertising businesses represents an unprecedented assault on privacy rights. It says the companies force people to make a “Faustian bargain” to share their data in order to access Google and Facebook services that have grown to dominate the global public square.
“This ubiquitous surveillance has undermined the very essence of the right to privacy,” the report said, adding that the companies’ “use of algorithmic systems to create and infer detailed profiles on people interferes with our ability to shape our own identities within a private sphere.”
Amnesty called on governments to legally guarantee people’s right not to be tracked by advertisers or other third parties. It called current regulations — and the companies’ own privacy-shielding measures — inadequate.
In a written five-page response published with the report, Facebook disagreed with its conclusion that the company’s business practices “are inconsistent with human rights principles.”
Steve Satterfield, Facebook’s public policy director, also disputed that the social media behemoth’s business model is “surveillance-based” and noted that users sign up voluntarily for the service, which is nominally free although data collected is used to sell ads.
“A person’s choice to use Facebook’s services, and the way we collect, receive or use data — all clearly disclosed and acknowledged by users — cannot meaningfully be likened to the involuntary (and often unlawful) government surveillance” described in international human rights law, the letter states.
Google did not offer an on-the-record response to the report but disputed its findings. Amnesty said the company provided input and publicly available documents.