Ranking Digital Rights Launches Inaugural Telco Giants Scorecard

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Anne-Marie Slaughter
CEO of New America

The Washington D.C.-based Ranking Digital Rights, which advances corporate accountability for human rights in the digital age,  has launched its inaugural Telco Giants Scorecard in which it evaluated 12 of the biggest global telecommunications companies., The assessment looked at more than 250 aspects of their company policies that affect people’s human rights, focusing on corporate governance, freedom of expression, and privacy.

The scorecard findings show that, year after year, telcos perpetuate the same digital rights harms while facing far less scrutiny yet, despite being less visible than their Big Tech counterparts, telcos wield far more power.

The 12 Telco Giants it ranked are Telefónica, MTN, América Móvil, Ooredoo, Etisalat, Orange, Telenor, Vodafone, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Airtel and Axiata.

Titled “The 2022 RDR Telco Giants Scorecard”, is a stand-alone report and part two of the sixth edition of Ranking Digital Rights rankings, formerly known as RDR Corporate Accountability Index and it came out with nine key findings.

For the third year running, the report finds that Spain-based Telefónica came out tops, primarily due to expanded human rights risk assessments as well as disclosures noting that it does not comply with private requests for censorship or user information. This year marked the first time Telefónica came first across all three categories.

The South African company, MTN, posted the greatest score improvement this year, according the report, gaining 11.42 points, followed by Mexico’s América Móvil, whose score increased by 8.47 points. MTN also joined the multi-stakeholder forum, Global Network Initiative (GNI) and implemented other RDR recommendations.

The ranking shows that the Qatari company, Ooredoo and the UAE’s e& (formerly Etisalat) came last again this year, holding onto the last-place positions they have occupied since Ranking Digital Rights started evaluating them. These companies continue to disclose very little about their policies and practices related to freedom of expression and privacy.

Ironically, the report finds that the scores for most European telcos: France’s Orange, Norway’s Telenor, and the United Kingdom’s Vodafone declined slightly.

On a good note, the 2022 RDR Telco Giants Scorecard marks the first time all 12 ranked telcos have published a general commitment to both freedom of expression and privacy in their operations. The majority of them have also established board-level oversight of these commitments and provided relevant training for staff.

In another first for the RDR ranking, all the companies ranked published something about how they respond to network shutdowns. RDR says “Network shutdowns are among the most severe manifestations of how governments weaponize telcos to curtail free expression, and greater transparency in this domain is vital for safeguarding the fundamental rights of internet users and their communities.”

The report also shows that the companies RDR evaluated showed improvements in all three categories in its ranking system: governance, freedom of expression, and privacy, theough their scores on freedom of expression still lagged behind their scores in other categories, but showed the greatest rate of improvement. Also encouraging was that fact that no company’s score declined more than half a point in our ranking.

The order of the top five telcos in the ranking did not change since the 2020 RDR Index. In total, three-quarters of companies made at least minor net improvements to their disclosed policies affecting privacy and freedom of expression.

To read the full 2022 Telco Giants Scorecard for an in-depth examination of these issues, key takeaways about the sector and detailed company analysis, please visit https://rankingdigitalrights.org/tgs22/.

Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) is an independent research program at the policy think tank New America.​