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Amnesty International slams Facebook and Google surveillance as human rights threat

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Human rights charity Amnesty International is the latest to call for reform of surveillance capitalism — blasting the business models of “surveillance giants” Facebook and Google in a new report which warns the pair’s market dominating platforms are “enabling human rights harm at a population scale”.

“Despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost,” Amnesty warns. “The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse. Firstly, an assault on the right to privacy on an unprecedented scale, and then a series of knock-on effects that pose a serious risk to a range of other rights, from freedom of expression and opinion, to freedom of thought and the right to non-discrimination.”

Facebook and Google’s omnipresent surveillance of billions of people poses a systemic threat to human rights, Amnesty International warned in a new report as it called for a radical transformation of the tech giants’ core business model.

Surveillance Giants lays out how the surveillance-based business model of Facebook and Google is inherently incompatible with the right to privacy and poses a systemic threat to a range of other rights including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives – amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people. 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, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“To protect our core human values in the digital age – dignity, autonomy, privacy – there needs to be a radical overhaul of the way Big Tech operates, and to move to an internet that has human rights at its core.”

Google and Facebook have established dominance over the primary channels that most of the world – outside of China – relies on to realize their rights online. The various platforms they own – including Facebook, Instagram, Google Search, YouTube and WhatsApp –facilitate the ways people seek and share information, engage in debate and participate in society. Google’s Android also underpins most of the world’s smartphones.

While other Big Tech companies – including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft – have accrued significant power in other areas, it is the platforms owned by Facebook and Google that have become fundamental to how people engage and interact with each other – effectively a new global public square.

“Google and Facebook chipped away at our privacy over time. We are now trapped,” Secretary General of Amnesty International Kumi Naidoo said in a statement. “Either we must submit to this pervasive surveillance machinery – where our data is easily weaponized to manipulate and influence us – or forego the benefits of the digital world.”

The report also cited the scandal involving Cambridge Analytica — the now-defunct company that improperly collected the data of millions of voters from their Facebook profiles–as an example of how people’s information can be misused and manipulated.

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