Access Now Plans Tech Conference on Human Rights

Why Digital Marketers Need to Be Aware of Their Global Role

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Technology marketers will have an opportunity to learn about their role in global human rights at the Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference Oct. 25–26 at the Mission Bay Conference Center in San Francisco.

The event is sponsored by Access Now, an organization focused on global human rights as they relate to digital technology. The conference was created to offer an opportunity for exchanges among information companies, brands, academics and human rights advocates. Speakers will include Alex MacGillivray, general counsel, Twitter; Michael Posner, assistant U.S. secretary of state; Alex Fowler, global privacy and public policy leader, Mozilla; and Daniel Fibger, manager of social and environmental responsibility, the Gap.

"Out of Silicon Valley come new technologies -- whether it is Twitter or the basic platforms -- that weren't designed with human rights in mind," says conference program director Brett Solomon, co-founder and executive director of Access Now. "They were designed to facilitate communications and the user's ability to talk across borders. We are seeing many of these brands are unwittingly on the front lines of human rights."

For example, geolocation, a technology that tracks cell phones and computers, can be used to determine the locations of political opponents, Solomon says, adding that the issue is not abstract. He cites Vodafone's experience in Egypt earlier this year.

Vodafone's operating license with the Egyptian government required it to shut down service when the political uprisings began, says Solomon, who adds these are issues that startups should also consider when writing articles of incorporation.

"We need to help technology companies navigate [these issues] and [learn] how to recognize and realize [that ], when a decision is made by a coder in technology, it [can] have impact in Cairo," he says.

Solomon says decisions that affect human rights are made throughout the information and communication technologies chain, from the writing of code, the nature of platforms, hardware and software -- all across the spectrum.

Pointing out that two security researchers recently discovered a way to hack the "https" security measure, he says, "All of us have now moved our basic functions online -- we shop, we bank, we give a little bit of our information, data about our identity -- and that information is not necessarily secure. We know from this hack this information is not invulnerable.

"It raises questions about our right to privacy," Solomon says. "It is a conversation that has to happen with technology companies. It is a conversation that has to happen with users."

The point, he says, is that "when companies consider the rights of their customers, it is good for business, the brand and the bottom line. We know the customers are likely to use [brands] where they are treated with the respect they are looking for."

Solomon says other sectors, such as the energy industry, have come to terms with the broader human rights issues. "Now," he says, "it is the technology sector's turn."