Are media organisations violating user privacy?

Gaps in Africa’s internet governance and online rights took centre stage at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa. The event, which was hosted by Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, ran from 23 to 26 September in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Deputy Editor and Digital Policy Specialist at the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) Daniel O'Maley gave delegates a glimpse of what media organisations do to track users. The presentation was based on CIMA’s June 2019 report titled ‘Big Data, Not Big Brother: New Data Protection Laws and the Implications for Independent Media Around the World’.

The report results include an analysis of tracking the practices of 50 independent news sites in 10 developing countries. One of the key findings - 92% of the digital media outlets included in the analysis employ third-party tracking devices.

“Indeed, the findings in this report reveal that the current level of preparedness among smaller media companies in the Global South to protect their readers from being identified and to protect the commercial value of their analytics data is low,” the report read.

Source: CIMA

With the internet’s growing social and economic importance, “more and more people have begun engaging with technologies that surreptitiously undermine their privacy.”

It also add that news organisations need better support and training to safeguard their audiences and their audience privacy.

Who protects the unsuspecting user?

Africa already has a regional framework in place to advance internet freedom and freedom of expression, and this framework has already been translated to social and legal victories. Among the latest is the draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa circulated by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) on April 30, 2019. The draft declaration affirms the right for people to protect their information and the right to communicate anonymously.

According to the International Justice Resource Center, the draft tries to address new technological advances, online activity and internet restrictions in the region. The declaration says countries must establish this protection in their laws, and adds that personal information must be processed with the consent of the individual concerned. When personal information is being processed, the declaration says people have the right to be informed in detail and object to the processing if they choose to.

It is meant to give effect to the human rights protection offered by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which was ratified by 54 African countries barring Morocco. The Declaration outlines how countries 'shall adopt legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures based on it and must facilitate its dissemination'.

This will come in handy for media practitioners and organisations fighting for press freedom, especially in the event that their rights as enshrined in the Charter are violated. If they are not satisfied with the recourse provided by their countries of origin, as in the landmark Lohé Issa Konaté v Burkina Faso case, they can approach regional courts like the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.

Countries with data protection laws

Source: CIMA

As of March 2019 there were 134 countries that had data protection laws in place. In an additional 26 countries the process of protecting data is still in the draft legislation stage. According to CIMA, these laws are likely to affect news organisation that run websites that uses cookies, collect audience data or load elements onto their webpage from a third party.

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