Tech and legal experts propose concrete steps companies can take to ensure their products are not used to undermine democracy
A group of prominent privacy, civil liberties, and human rights organizations have launched SecurityPledge.com, a major new campaign calling on tech companies to take concrete steps to protect their users in the wake of widely reported abuses like the harvesting and manipulation of Facebook data conducted by Cambridge Analytica. The site asks Internet users to add their name to an open letter calling on tech companies to take the data security pledge and make needed changes to ensure their users’ data isn’t used against them.
"Tech companies need to change," reads the headline on the site, backed by the 18 Million Rising, the American Civil Liberties Union, Demand Progress, Coworker, Color of Change, Fight for the Future, and Sum of Us, grassroots groups that represent millions of people. The pledge outlines a detailed set of technological and policy commitments that tech companies must make in order to "ensure the Internet is used to expand democracy, not undermine it."
Specifically, the pledge calls for companies to:
- Limit the amount of data they collect in the first place, and give users control over how it is shared.
- Offer end-to-end encryption by default to ensure that users’ communications are protected from corporate and government surveillance
- Provide users with full transparency about what data is collected, how it is used, and what measures are in place to prevent it from being abused.
- Support legislation and policy reforms that limit government access to user data except with a warrant and judicial oversight.
The organizations behind the campaign will encourage users to flock to services that have taken these steps and avoid those that haven’t until they do.
"The internet can be made a tool for transformational change for the better," said David Segal, Executive Director of Demand Progress, "but it can also be used for the extraction of sensitive private information and manipulation towards the benefit of large corporations or for social control by governments. The major online platforms are facing a reckoning: How they respond in this moment will help determine whether the utopian vision that inspired so many internet pioneers and users stands a chance of becoming a reality, or whether companies will ignore the public interest turn the internet against its users towards the end of private benefit."
"This is a watershed moment for the Internet," said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), Millions of people now understand how their data can be weaponized and used against them, and they are demanding change. Cambridge Analytica is just the tip of the iceberg, and this problem doesn’t begin and end with Facebook. If the largest tech companies take the steps outlined in the security pledge, it will change the course of human history for the better, and protect billions of people’s basic rights."
"It’s time that companies take steps to ensure that using their products doesn’t mean that users have to sacrifice their rights," said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU legislative counsel. "The way companies treat data can affect whether you are wrongly excluded from job or housing ads because of your gender, targeted for dubious financial products, or have your security compromised. Many companies have for too long ignored their obligation to treat data responsibly, prevent information from being used to discriminate, and provide users’ full control over how it is handled."