UNESCO Calls for Research Proposals on the Role of Internet Intermediaries


The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is calling for proposals from researchers and interested organisations that will help to identify principles for good practices and processes related to Internet intermediaries. These principles should protect freedom of expression by ensuring that any limitations of this right are consistent with international standards.  The proposals will address the principles based on the operations of internet intermediaries such as Internet service providers, search engines, online media, and social media.

UNESCO intends, with this research project, to contribute to promoting online freedom of expression through assembling and analyzing empirical data, encouraging self-regulation and providing practical recommendations to the industry.

It recognizes that Internet intermediaries play a unique role in linking authors of content and audiences, which may either protect or jeopardize end users’ rights to free expression. This is as a result of the roles of the intermediaries in capturing, storing, searching, sharing, transferring and processing large amount of information, data and user-generated content. It noted that this role is particularly prominent in the cases of search engines and internet-service providers (ISPs), hosting providers, cloud computing services, online social networks and media houses.

The project therefore aims at identifying principles for good practices and processes that are consistent with international standards for free expression that Internet intermediaries may follow in order to protect the human rights of end users online.

The project will also use a case study methodology and will evaluate how Internet intermediaries can either uphold or compromise freedom of expression.

It will have five major categories namely; Internet search engines and portals (Google, yahoo!, MSN, Baidu, Sina.com, etc.), Social media networks, (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, SinaWeibo, etc.), Online media with user-generated content (BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, online newspapers, etc.), ISPs, including telecommunication, cable and mobile operators (Verizon, AT&T, free.fr, Orange, T-mobile, Nokia), Data processing, web hosting providers and cloud computing services, including big data hosts and Domain Name Registries (Navisite, Akamai, ICANN, Register.com, Verizon).

Proposals should be targeted toward identifying principles for good practices and processes that can protect freedom of expression by ensuring that any of limitations of this right are consistent with international standards.

Prospective researchers are encouraged, in their proposals, to include a detailed description of the research methodology, possible case studies, timeline and the requested funding.

Research will be presented at events around the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and on Internet Governance Forum in 2014.

The final research will be published as part of UNESCO’s Series on Internet Freedom and, budget allowing, be translated to all six UN official languages, which will inform UNESCO’s 195 Member States and other international policy-makers on intermediaries-related policy making to promote online freedom

The deadline for submission of proposals is September 13, 2013. Interested participants should submit their proposals to Ms Xianhong Hu, via email; x.hu@unesco.org.

UNESCO is an international Organisation that promotes the free flow of ideas by word and image. This covers promoting a free, open and accessible Internet space as part of promoting comprehensive freedom of expression both online and offline.