Regulating Big Tech: Views from Digital Rights Defenders around the World

Freedom House’s collaborators explain how well-crafted internet regulations can protect user privacy, empower free expression, and hold companies and governments to account.

In the high-stakes battle between states and technology companies, the rights of internet users have become the main casualties, according to the latest Freedom on the Net report. How can governments design regulations for the technology industry that protect, rather than undermine, human rights online?

Members of Freedom on the Net 2021’s network of researchers—country-focused experts who come from civil society organizations, academia, journalism, and other backgrounds—provide answers below. They addressed the need to prioritize human rights protection in new laws, increase transparency and privacy safeguards, and develop rules through evidence gathering and consultations with civil society and the industry.

Caution and consultation

Luisa Fernanda Isaza Ibarra, who covered Colombia for Freedom on the Net 2021, highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the internet among those seeking to regulate it. Tess Wandia spoke to the importance of evidence-based content moderation policies to protect vibrant online spaces like that in Kenya. And Uzbekistan researcher Ernest Zhanaev encouraged tech companies to work more closely with civil society on key policy matters.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda Isaza Ibarra and a quote about regulators learning how the internet works
Quote from Tess Wandia about content moderation that preserves Kenya's online space
Photo of Ernest Zhanaev and a quote about tech companies working with civil society

Accountability through transparency

Eduardo Ferreyra, who covered Argentina, called on governments to ensure transparency regarding platforms’ automated systems. Brazil researcher Bruna Martins dos Santos emphasized that increased platform transparency can facilitate greater accountability. And Venezuela analyst Raisa Urribarri argued that transparency requirements also grant users more control over their online experience.

Photo of Eduardo Ferreyra and a quote about automated decision-making systems and transparency
Photo of Bruna Martins do Santos and a quote about platform transparency
Photo of Raisa Urribarri and a quote about transparency in automated decision-making systems and for personal data

Safeguarding user privacy to mitigate harm

Iraq analyst Hayder Hamzoz called for governments to protect the right to privacy by respecting encryption. Alexander Rochefort, author of the United States report, noted that adoption of a strong federal privacy law in the country would safeguard users from the harms caused by the platforms’ business model. And Trinh Huu Long, who covered Vietnam, urged the passage of laws that would prevent companies from exploiting user data without consent.

Photo of Hayder Hamzoz and a quote about protecting encryption
Photo of Alex Rochefort and a quote about federal privacy legislation
Photo of Trinh Huu Long and a quote about democracies setting an example through positive regulation

Human rights at the center                                                 

Turkey researcher Gürkan Özturan spoke about how internet users could fight back against problematic regulations. Yenn Lee underscored the dangers of such laws, describing how South Korea compels private companies to censor content. And Indonesia researcher Sherly Haristya put the onus on technology companies to help protect human rights.

Photo of Gurkan Ozturan and a quote about digital sovereignty and censorship
Photo of Yenn Lee and a quote about online service providers in South Korea
Quote from Sherly Haristya about tech companies and Indonesians