Google, Facebook accused of human rights abuse

Intrusion: Even our right to free thought is at risk. © Amnesty International

Are two of the biggest companies in the world laying waste to human rights? A major new report, yesterday, claims they are destroying the right to privacy, freedom of expression and equality.

The charity was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its campaign to stop torture around the world.

It helped to secure an international Arms Trade Treaty in 2013, the International Criminal Court in 2002, and a global convention against torture in 1984.

So, guess who Amnesty International now says is the biggest threat to human rights on Planet Earth?

The answer is two brands that we all use — and, by using, we sustain — every day of our lives: Google and Facebook.

Yesterday, Amnesty published a damning 60-page indictment of the twin “surveillance giants” warning that they are enabling human rights harm on a global scale.

Their surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, says the report.

Google and Facebook offer services to billions of people without asking them to pay a financial fee. Instead, citizens pay for the services with their intimate personal data.

After collecting this data, Google and Facebook use it to analyse people, aggregate them into groups, and to make predictions about their interests, characteristics and behaviour — so they can use these insights to generate advertising revenue.

So, are two of the biggest and best-known companies in the world laying waste to human rights?

Digital dictatorship

It depends what you call “human rights”, say some. Like it or not, we live in a digital age now. Privacy is a value we must learn to sacrifice for the amazing benefits of instant connection to the rest of the human race and limitless knowledge.

You’ve fallen for the propaganda, say others. Privacy is not a commodity that we can trade. It is as deeply essential to our happiness as love or having a soul. Imagine if Google asked you to give up the ability to love in order to use Android. That’s what we are talking about here.

You Decide

  1. Is privacy a big deal?


  1. Read the Expert Link about the new social network from Jimmy Wales. Write one side of paper about whether you think it will work or not.

Some People Say...

“They know everything about us; we know almost nothing about them.”

Shoshana Zuboff, American author and scholar

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Google and Facebook are two of the most valuable and powerful companies in the world today. Google’s market capitalisation is more than twice the GDP of Ireland; Facebook’s is larger by a third.
What do we not know?
Whether governments will hit back.

Word Watch

Arms Trade Treaty
A multilateral treaty that regulates the international trade in conventional weapons. It entered into force on 24 December 2014.
International Criminal Court
An intergovernmental organisation and international tribunal that sits in The Hague, Netherlands. The ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression
Global convention
An international human rights treaty, under the review of the United Nations, that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world
Human rights
The basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world. In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.
Faustian bargain
A deal whereby a person trades something highly moral, such as personal values or the soul, for worldly goods like riches or success and power.

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