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Facebook, Google a 'threat to human rights'

November 21, 2019

Amnesty International said in a report that Facebook and Google's "surveillance-based business model" is inherently incompatible with the right to privacy. The NGO urged governments to take action.

Apps on a cracked phone screen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stache

Amnesty International in a report has said tech giants Facebook and Google should be forced to abandon what it calls a "surveillance-based business model" that is ''predicated on human rights abuse.''

"Despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook's platforms come at a systemic cost," the human rights group said in its 60-page report published on Thursday.

Amnesty said that by gathering up personal data to feed advertising businesses, the two firms carry out an unprecedented assault on privacy rights.

'Faustian bargain'

Amnesty said the companies force people to make a ''Faustian bargain,'' where they share their data and private information in exchange for access to Google and Facebook services.

The NGO said this was problematic because both firms have established "near-total dominance over the primary channels through which people connect and engage with the online world," giving them unprecedented power over people's lives.

"Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era," said Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's secretary general.

Google and Facebook also present a threat to other human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to equality and non-discrimination, Amnesty said.

Read more: Bangladesh: Fake news on Facebook fuels communal violence

The report has called for governments to implement policies that allow people's privacy to be protected, while ensuring access to online services.

"Governments have an obligation to protect people from human rights abuses by corporations," the group said. 

"But for the past two decades, technology companies have been largely left to self-regulate."

Facebook pushes back

Facebook disagreed with the report's conclusions. Steve Satterfield, the company's public policy director, rejected the notion that the business model was "surveillance-based'' and noted that users sign up voluntarily for the service.

"A person's choice to use Facebook's services, and the way we collect, receive or use data, all clearly disclosed and acknowledged by users, cannot meaningfully be likened to the involuntary (and often unlawful) government surveillance'' described in international human rights law, Facebook said in a 5-page response letter to Amnesty International.

Google also disputed Amnesty's findings but did not provide an on-the-record response to the report. The company provided input and publicly available documents, Amnesty added.

jcg/stb (Reuters, AP)

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