Amnesty International today called for a radical transformation of Google and Facebook’s business model, saying the tech giants' “omnipresent surveillance of billions of people posed a systemic threat to human rights” of the four billion people around the world that rely on the Internet to communicate, earn a living, learn and organize both politically and socially.
While Google and Facebook offer free services to about a third of the globe’s population, individuals pay for the services by providing intimate personal data, being tracked constantly across the web and the physical world.
The 60-page “Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook Threatens Human Rights” maintains the “extraction and analysis of people’s personal data on such an unprecedented scale is incompatible with every element of the right to privacy, including the freedom of extrusion into our private lives, the right to control information about ourselves, and the right to a space in which we can freely express our identities.”
For billions of people, there no meaningful choice to access the public space of the Internet, other than by the terms dictated by Google and Facebook. “Either we must submit to this pervasive surveillance machinery—where our data is easily weaponized to manipulate and influence us—or forgo the benefits of the digital world," said Kumi Naidoo, AI’s secretary-general, in a statement. “This can never be a legitimate choice. We must reclaim this essential public square, so we can participate without having our rights abused.”
The Report warns that the model adopted by Google and Facebook has become the core of many other businesses, such as advertisers, data brokers, start-ups and non-tech companies looking to grow or pivot their businesses to monetize personal data.
Google and Facebook offer “the blueprint for the Internet, and it is making its way into our homes, workplaces and streets via the 'Internet of Things,'” says the Report.
Amnesty International believes the scale and complexity of human rights harm linked to the surveillance-based business will require a smart mix of structural solutions, coming from investigations, analysis and interdisciplinary thinking from technologists, academics, civil society and policymakers.
It feels the time is ripe for action because there is a growing backlash against the power of Big Tech, which will trigger government regulation.
The Report states: “The risk is that any regulation over the Internet must be implemented extremely carefully in order not to harm freedom of expression and other rights.
“As such, it is vital that whatever form a new regulatory regime takes, it is grounded in a human rights-based approach and addresses the inherent impacts of the surveillance-based business model on the right to privacy and other human rights.
“In the short-term, there is an immediate need to strengthen enforcement of existing regulation in the face of pervasive, widespread and systemic breaches of data protection laws.”