Human Rights Impact Assessments
Yahoo has publicly committed to conducting human rights impact assessments in order to understand and address the human rights implications of our business decisions.
What are HRIA?
Yahoo conducts Human Rights Impact Assessments (HRIA) to identify circumstances when freedom of expression and privacy may be jeopardized or advanced. Yahoo conducts short-form HRIAs for specific, targeted questions. Where Yahoo identifies significant risks to users’ free expression and/or privacy, however, it undertakes a long-form assessment. The long-form HRIA provides a comprehensive background on the business plans, human rights issues, potential risk mitigation strategies, and other relevant information.
When do we conduct HRIA?
There are a variety of circumstances that trigger an HRIA, including:
- Entry into new markets
- Launch of new products or services that may impact users’ rights to privacy or free expression
- Review and revision of internal procedures for responding to government demands for user data or content restrictions in existing markets
- Data storage decisions
- Review of the free expression and privacy-related policies, procedures and activities of potential partners, investments, suppliers and other third-parties.
How do we conduct HRIA?
The HRIA is the starting point for our ongoing review of the human rights landscape and of Yahoo’s business plans. It also informs our evolving strategies to promote and protect our users’ rights to free expression and privacy. When we conduct an HRIA, we review a number of factors, including:
- The international legal and moral foundations for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.
- The general human rights landscape in the relevant country or region, with a particular focus on rule of law, free expression and privacy.
- Local laws about free expression and privacy
- Yahoo’s business and product plans for entry into the market.
- The existing and potential benefits of the Internet to the citizens of the relevant region or country.
Based upon what we learn, we identify potential human rights risks and formulate risk scenarios based on Yahoo’s products and operations. We then make recommendations to avoid or mitigate those risks, and to protect our users and promote human rights with our products and on our platforms.
As part of the HRIA process we also consult with a variety of local and regional experts, including GNI participants, government agencies, human rights organizations, academics, journalists and social media experts.
How does this work in practice?
When Yahoo was considering if and how to engage in Vietnam, we conducted a human rights impact assessment. We reviewed a variety of sources, including reports from the following sources:
- Amnesty International
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Economist Intelligence Unit
- Human Rights Watch
- Office of the US Trade Representative
- Reporters Without Borders
- The Congressional Record
- University of Minnesota Human Rights Library
- US Department of State
We met with multiple stakeholders, from bloggers to government officials to human rights activists to journalists, both in Vietnam and outside of the country. The research and the conversations helped us to identify both the human rights opportunity (i.e., while traditional forms of media were heavily censored, expression was much less restricted online, and political expression in online spaces was much more robust) and the human rights risk (there remained a high risk related to government requests for user information or for censorship).
All of the foregoing helped us to tailor our business operations to be as consistent as possible with our corporate human rights commitments. We decided to manage and operate our Vietnamese language services out of Singapore so the services would be governed by laws with stronger protections than those in Vietnam.
The HRIA also informed our choices about legal structures, internal policies, user terms of service, data access policies and data location, which were all tailored to protect users and employees.
Yahoo has established international fellowships at Stanford University and Georgetown University to advance the work of journalists and scholars exploring the complex issues at the intersection of technology, free expression, privacy and global values.
Yahoo International Values, Communications, Technology, and Global Internet Fellowship Fund at Georgetown University
The fellowship program at Georgetown University was established in 2007, and supports the education and research activities of an annual Yahoo Fellow in Residence and two Junior Yahoo Fellows. The Yahoo Fellows come from around the world, from diverse sectors (including corporations, government, academia, and civil society), and are responsible for multi-disciplinary research that explores how diverse international values apply to the development and use of new communications technologies, with a focus on Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The Global Network Initiative
Yahoo is a founding member of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder initiative comprising ICT companies, human rights organizations, academics, investors and others that works to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.