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Internet Without Borders’ Julie Owono on taking Internet privacy seriously

Internet Without Borders’ Julie Owono on taking Internet privacy seriously

Sep 7, 2021

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When it comes to Internet privacy and human rights advocacy, Internet Without Borders Executive Director Julie Owono says that one of the biggest challenges is getting people to take you seriously.

"We tend to be so advanced in identifying threats and the dangers that when we talk about them, nobody listens to us—because they don't yet exist."

Julie, who is also an inaugural member of the Facebook Oversight Board, joined Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of the Priv8 podcast. Early in the conversation, she pointed to an instance in 2011 when Internet Without Borders filed a lawsuit against Facebook with regards to its privacy policy. "We were pointing to the risks of storing large amounts of personal information in a single place," she said.

"Being European, and knowing the history of Europe around gathering personal data, we knew how these data could be misused if they were in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, ten years ago, people didn't care—some even laughed at us. And then Cambridge Analytica happened. Since then, many other episodes have proven that we were right to be concerned."

"Today, we're focused on what we call 'content moderation.' Social media platforms have the power to decide what can be said or not said on their spaces—and ultimately, on the Internet, because much of the online world exists on these platforms."

The high level of control that social media platforms have over public narratives is clear. Sadly, the full implications of this centralized power are often demonstrated on the world's most vulnerable populations. In 2018, when anti-Rohingya propaganda on Facebook helped fuel genocide in Myanmar.

"The full impact of social media's power is thrown to fragile societies that don't have the safeguards that we would see in the US or in Europe... [For example], there are certain parts of the world where companies will respect the privacy of their users by default. But the same company may completely disregard privacy rights in other regions."

"Our research has shown that telecommunications companies are respectful of privacy when they operate in their native markets, which are usually in the global North. But when the same companies operate in African countries, they may not even have a privacy policy published."

Julie argued that providing fair and equal privacy rights to all people will be an important part of companies' strategy going forward—and not just because it's the ethical thing to do: "We truly believe that in the 21st century, companies that positively contribute to the well-being of society and the Internet are the companies that will be profitable in the long term."

Check out Derek's entire conversation with Julie. And don't forget to subscribe to Priv8 Podcast on your favorite streaming service.


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