Technology & Science

Amnesty International calls Facebook, Google rights abusers

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."

Online giants dispute findings of report, which calls for more robust privacy protections

Amnesty International took aim at internet giants Facebook and Google in a lengthy report, which calls for the companies to change their business practices. (Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images)

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 of expression and the right to equality and non-discrimination, the group said.

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.

Facebook disagrees

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.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.