Europe Approves Copyright Reform, Benin Levies Internet Tax, Amazon Investigates Reported Data Breach

September 24, 2018

Corporate Accountability News Highlights is a regular series by Ranking Digital Rights highlighting key news related to tech companies, freedom of expression, and privacy issues around the world.

European lawmakers approve contested copyright reforms

The European Parliament last week voted in favor of controversial copyright reform measures that tech experts and rights groups warn could threaten internet freedom. The directive, aimed at updating the EU’s copyright laws, includes provisions requiring online platforms to filter copyrighted material and to buy licenses from publishers for linking to their content. Critics have bashed the legislation as “a hammer blow to the open Internet.”

European lawmakers in June voted down the directive after intense pressure by rights groups and tech companies. The European Parliament last week approved the directive, despite only minor amendments to the original proposal.

The directive has sparked widespread criticism from tech lobbying groups, who warn the reforms will thwart access to information and could lead to censorship. Among the more contested provisions, Article 11 would prohibit online platforms from linking to news content unless they first get a license from the publisher for the digital use of their content, and Article 13 would require all content published online in the EU to be checked for copyright infringement. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), this means any website that allows users to post “text, sounds, code, still or moving images, or other copyrighted works for public consumption will have to filter all their users’ submissions against a database of copyrighted works.” Rights groups agree this would lead to excessive filtering and censorship. While digital rights groups have panned the measures, content producers, including many music and media organizations, have hailed the proposed reforms.

The approved legislation now enters into closed-door discussions between the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Parliament before a final vote in January 2019. If the vote passes, EU-member states will have two years to adopt new regulations.

Ranking Digital Rights recommends that companies push back against overly broad or vague regulations that infringe on users’ freedom of expression and privacy. Companies should be transparent about their policies and practices for filtering, removing, or otherwise blocking access to content, whether in compliance with national laws or for breaches to the company’s own rules. This involves clearly disclosing how they handle requests to restrict content.

Benin levies internet tax

The government of Benin has approved measures that will tax citizens for using the internet and social media. The measures require citizens to pay five CFA francs ($0.008) per megabyte of data used on “over-the-top” (OTT) services, which includes for regular internet access, as well as apps like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. An additional tax of five percent will be levied on the price of service—excluding VAT—of standard telephony-based calls and messages.

Benin’s internet tax is part of a growing trend by African lawmakers to curb access to online services. Similar tax regimes have been implemented by the governments of Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Digital rights advocates in Nigeria warn that the government there may soon follow suit. The policies are likely to aid regional telecommunications companies, who have lost significant revenue as OTT services continue to grow, but they will also impede internet access in a region where penetration remains low.

Governments should refrain from introducing measures, such as taxing internet usage, that impede internet access and violate human rights. Both governments and companies should carry out human rights due diligence in order to ensure that policies do not negatively affect freedom of expression, in breach of international human rights standards and norms.

Amazon investigates reported data breach

Amazon is investigating reports that employees have been accepting bribes in exchange for leaking customer data and manipulating product reviews in order to give some online sellers an advantage, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

The incidents were first discovered among Amazon employees in China, but the company is also investigating similar reports involving Amazon employees in the US.

Studies show that “insider threats” account for a majority of breach incidents. The 2018 Corporate Accountability Index recommends that companies disclose basic information on what steps they take internally to keep user information secure, including if they limit and monitor unauthorized employee access to user information. They also should disclose information about their processes for handling data breaches once they do occur, including policies for notifying affected users.