Business Insider Edition

Amnesty says Google and Facebook threaten human rights

Charlie Wood , Business Insider US
 Nov 21, 2019, 06:16 PM
Google CEO Sundar Pichai (left) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Getty/Business Insider composite
  • Amnesty International has attacked the business models of tech giants Google and Facebook, describing them as "surveillance-based."
  • In a damning new report, Amnesty argues that because Facebook and Google scoop huge amounts of detail personal data on their users, their business models effectively depend on constant surveillance.
  • The organisation argued the two firms build up detailed profiles of individuals and groups, predict people's interests and behavior, and sell access to advertisers.
  • A Facebook spokesperson said the company "fundamentally disagrees" with Amnesty's report.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

Global human rights organisation Amnesty International attacked Google and Facebook in a no-holds-barred report, claiming the two tech giants' business models "threaten human rights."

In the report, Amnesty described Google and Facebook's predominantly ad-based business models as "surveillance-based," and said the "mass harvesting and monetisation of data - primarily for the purpose of advertising - has meant that surveillance has become the 'business model of the internet'."

Facebook said in a statement that it disagreed with Amnesty's findings. Google has not responded to a request for comment.

Critics and activists frequently point out that Google and Facebook rely on scooping up vast amounts of data in order to make their ads more precisely targeted and, therefore, more profitable. Both firms make the bulk of their revenue from online ads. The practice has spawned a new and pejorative term: surveillance capitalism.

Many of Amnesty's arguments are a repeat of those criticisms, but the report is a damning verdict on how the two firms operate.

Amnesty says their model threatens the right to privacy, as well as freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

Specifically, Amnesty noted:

  • The fact that Facebook and Google run continuous analysis and accumulation of information about people, and argued that this is surveillance.
  • Facebook and Google don't charge for their services but rely on people effectively handing over their data as a hidden kind of payment.
  • The two firms are able to collect a wealth of highly detailed data, meaning they can reasonably be claimed to know more about individuals than the individuals do about themselves.
  • The two firms are able to analyze and predict people's habits and behaviours.

The final piece of this business model is to sell access to this information to anyone who wishes to target a particular group of people - thereby letting advertisers target people online.

The report goes on to argue that the companies' power stops them from being held fully accountable by governments and regulators.

But it also acknowledged that the era of tech self-regulation is nearing an end, as lawmakers around the world scrutinise the major tech firms more closely.

In a statement sent to Business Insider, Facebook strongly disputed the report. A company spokesperson said: "We fundamentally disagree with Amnesty International's report. Facebook enables people all over the world to connect in ways that protect privacy, including in less developed countries through tools like Free Basics.

"Our business model is how groups like Amnesty International - who currently run ads on Facebook - reach supporters, raise money, and advance their mission," the spokesperson added.

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