Better Behavior by Computer Companies?

Under the gentle guidance of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, former home to all 3 of us at Info/Law, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, and Vodafone have agreed to work with NGOs to develop a code of conduct on human rights, including freedom of expression. This achievement comes after years of hard work by John Palfrey, Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan Zuckerman, and others, and they deserve tremendous credit for pushing this issue while avoiding the shoals of extreme views on all sides. I’ve been critical of these companies in the past, but I’m hopeful that this cooperative effort will bear fruit, enabling the companies to make money while behaving in an ethically responsible fashion, and also serve as a model for future interactions between corporations and their critics.

7 Responses to “Better Behavior by Computer Companies?”

  1. Congratulations to Berkman and especially Ms. MacKinnon to holding these companies to a sense of responsibility! Way to go ladies and gentlemen! Becky

  2. [...] As Derek noted previously in this space, an industry-wide initiative is forming to help companies develop ethical business standards for promoting free expression and privacy online. The Berkman Center is one of the leaders of the effort, along with a wide range of investors, civil society groups, academic institutions, and, of course, companies operating in this space. One of the investors really thinking about these issues is F&C Asset Management, a London-based manager of over $200 billion. The F&C Governance & Sustainable Investment Team recently released a thoughtful report directed at managers in companies who need to think about access, security, and privacy issues in the digital environment. [Disclosure: my wife works on the F&C GSI Team, though she wasn’t really involved in this report.] Because it’s written on behalf of investors and directed at corporate managers, its tone is different from some of the advocacy you see elsewhere — which is exactly the point. Investor dialogue will be one of the keys to helping companies contribute to solutions in these areas. Law is important too, but not the only component. We are learning, once again, from environmentalism. [...]

  3. [...] If this report goes nowhere, it would be an unfortunate lost opportunity. There is a lot of work to be done in encouraging social responsibility and respect for privacy among the internet giants. An ongoing initiative to develop industry standards, with the Berkman Center’s involvement, could bear some fruit. There is little question in my mind that large companies’ privacy practices are deteriorating, and I’m all for holding them accountable for it. But the end result should be an improvement, not an impasse. [...]

  4. It is great to see companies striving to enforce ethics within and outside of their organisations. Consumer privacy should be on the top of their agendas.

  5. I agree with Mike: It’s a joy to witness businesses coming out of their way to enforce general ethics that have been left without “enforcers” for a long time.

  6. It’s good that there are some honest businesses willing to enforce ethics in the business world.

  7. [...] and I have both written here before about the importance of market-oriented efforts of this type. Here’s Derek’s post. As I said just about two years ago: Activists and policy wonks who work with environmental issues [...]