As of July 2022, there are more than 1 million (1,011,791) internet subscribers in Georgia. According to the national Telecommunication Authority (Communication Commission), 80% of these subscribers are split between the two main telecommunications companies: Magticom and Silknet.
- As a result of the evaluation, Magticom scored 39.45/100 points while Silknet fared slightly better with 44.98/100 points. However, both companies still fall short, with vast room for improvement.
- Neither company discloses the processes for responding to demands (from private entities, government agencies, or court demands) to restrict content or accounts, nor publishes the associated data (for example, as part of transparency reports).
- Neither company discloses information about their network management practices, specifically, whether or not they engage in network prioritization, blocking, or delaying traffic for any reason.
- Both companies have a log of their ToS versions. Magticom’s archive of changes to the terms of service is one click away from the front page and contains information about all prior changes, meanwhile, Silknet’s archive only dates back to 2021.
- Neither company clearly discloses information about the processes it uses to identify content or accounts that violate the established rules of the ToS.
Silknet formally states that they limit the collection of user information to what is directly relevant and necessary to accomplish the purpose of their service, however, there is no evidence that Magticom has made such an official commitment.
RDR’s Index methodology includes 58 indicators across three categories: governance, freedom of expression, and privacy, totalling more than 300 specific questions that are used to evaluate the company's disclosures and human rights commitments to respecting users' rights. For this study, the researchers selected 20 indicators that are especially relevant for the context in Georgia.
The indicators selected for this study cover the following topics:
- Data about content and account restrictions to enforce terms of service
- Process for responding to private requests and government demands to restrict content or accounts
- Data about private requests and government demands to restrict for content and accounts
- User notification about content and account restriction
- Network management and network shutdowns
- Addressing security vulnerabilities
Each indicator has a list of elements (the full list of questions evaluated can be found in the appendix), and companies receive credit (full, partial, or no credit) for each element they fulfill. The evaluation includes an assessment of disclosure for every element of each indicator, based on one of the following possible answers:
- “Yes”/ full disclosure: Company disclosure meets the element requirement.
- “Partial”: Company disclosure has met some but not all aspects of the element, or the disclosure is not comprehensive enough to satisfy the full scope of the element.
- “No disclosure found”: Researchers were unable to find information provided by the company on its website that answers the element question.
- “No”: Company disclosure exists, but it specifically does not disclose to users what the element is asking. This is distinct from the option of “no disclosure found,” although both result in no credit.
- “N/A”: Not applicable. This element does not apply to the company or service. Elements marked as N/A will not be counted for or against a company’s score
Once the evaluation of the elements is complete, then final scores are calculated based on the following points:
- Yes/full disclosure = 100
- Partial = 50
- No = 0
- No disclosure found = 0
- N/A = excluded from score and averages
As a result of the evaluation, Magticom scored 39.45 points, while Silknet fared slightly better with 44.98 points. In both cases, there were numerous unscored indicators due to the absence of relevant data or policies. Specifically, data about content and account restrictions is not disclosed by either company. No disclosures were found for processes for responding to demands (private, government, or court demands) to restrict content or accounts, nor the associated data. However, this data can be requested from Georgia’s Communications Commission, which is the main government agency that can make demands to block or restrict websites based on content. In the period from 2017 to September 26, 2022, the commission sent 65 demands to block a total of 480 websites by providers. The majority of blocked websites are due to copyright violations (77%), production violating Georgian legislation (16.5%), and pornography (6.5%). Neither ISP publicly discloses how they handle demands from foreign government entities (although when inquired Magticom stated that any demand made from a foreign jurisdiction would have to be officially recognised by the Georgian court before being considered by the ISP). No information could be found about the network management practices of the ISPs, specifically, whether or not they engage in network prioritization, blocking, or delaying traffic for any reason. Lastly, neither company has published information about the process/procedures for addressing security vulnerabilities discovered by external security researchers.
Both companies have easily accessible terms of service (ToS), which are available within one click from their respective homepage. The ToS are available in the national language (Magticom also provides theirs in English and Russian), and are presented clearly, in a readable font, spacing, and understandable language, with some charts to ease perceptibility.
As for the changes to the terms of service, both companies’ service agreement states that the ISP will directly inform users about changes to the terms of service 30 days prior if the changes lead to a fee increase or if the ISP is otherwise legally obligated. However, the two companies differ in their practices of publishing archives. While Magticom’s archive is one click away from the front page and contains information about all prior changes to the terms of service as well as minor changes to available products, Silknet’s archive only goes back to 2021.
Silknet’s subscription agreement lists the types of activities not permitted by the company, which may lead to the restriction of a user’s account. Magticom has a separate fair use policy for the same purpose. Both companies disclose their process for enforcing rules once violations are detected. However, neither company clearly discloses information about the processes it uses to identify content or accounts that violate the established rules.
There is also a major gap in the way the companies chose to notify users about content and account restrictions. Neither company makes any official mention in their policies available online of notifying users about content restrictions, although there have been sporadic instances of informative messages being displayed on blocked websites. The latest example was the restriction of popular Georgian multi-media portals, that were hosting pirated movies and TV-shows. After getting blocked the websites display a message saying “The page is undergoing reconstruction”. As for account restrictions, Silknet’s publicly available subscription agreement states that users will be directly notified in case of their accounts being suspended or restricted. However, Magticom’s publicly available service agreement template is quite ambiguous in this regard, stating that the ISP will take appropriate measures to inform the user in case of their account being restricted or temporarily suspended (due to missed payment or maintenance), however, no specific measures are mentioned and other cases of restriction are not discussed.
Lastly, some similarities are found between the companies in the way they handle information about network shutdowns. Silknet’s subscription agreement mentions the case for single users and accounts, but there is no mention of restricting service to a group or area. Furthermore, the publicly available agreement template is vague, not listing specific reasons that may lead to a shutdown. The same is outlined in Magticom’s standard conditions of service provision, with an approximately similar level of specificity, with the addition of clearly disclosing why it may restrict access to specific applications or protocols (at least VoIP services). Magticom’s Internet service provision contract template states that the ISP directly notifies users in case of a service interruption due to maintenance, for all other cases of shutdowns, the article is vague and states that the users will be notified in accordance with the ISP's discretion. In contrast, Silknet’s subscription agreement states that users will be directly notified when the company shuts down a network or restricts access to a service. Neither companies disclose its process for responding to government demands to shut down a network or restrict access to a service, nor any statistics depicting the number of network shutdown demands received from the specific legal authorities that make the demands or the number of government demands with which it complied. Furthermore, neither company mentions its commitment to push back on government demands to shut down networks or restrict access to services. Although it has to be noted, that there has been no precedent of such shutdowns in Georgia over the past years.
Both surveyed companies have made their privacy policies accessible one click away from their homepage, available in Georgian and English, as well as Russian in Magticom’s case. Both policies are formatted clearly and written in simple language, with section headers and readable
Both Magticom and Silknet clearly disclose the types of user information they collect and how they collect each type of user information, however only Silknet formally states that they limit the collection of user information to what is directly relevant and necessary to accomplish the purpose of their service. Similarly, both companies list the types of user information they infer and describe the methods of inference such as data analysis of users’ activities, preferences, or attributes, as well as data collected by combining datasets and utilizing data-mining techniques.
Magticom clearly discloses for what purpose collected information may be shared and what types of third parties it may be shared with, however, Silknet does not list the types of information. Both companies clearly state that they may share user information with Law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, courts, or other public authorities if mandated or authorized by law. The companies provide broad categories of third parties with whom user information may be shared but do not disclose the types of information that are shared with specific third parties.
Both companies list the purposes for the collection of each type of user data and broadly state the purpose for inference. Both companies disclose information regarding combining data from various services and list reasons such as selecting custom offers and promotions based on user activities, offering other products and services based on users' interests, and contacting users with notifications about changes to the service or product.
In terms of retention of user information, Silknet has a significantly more transparent practice, clearly disclosing how long it retains each type of user information. The company states that it retains aggregate data and data stored in anonymized/de-identified form, which does not constitute personal data, as it cannot be linked to an identified or identifiable natural person. The ISP also lists the purposes for retaining such data including analyzing and further developing the services, products, managerial, internal corporate, and third-party reports. However, it does not clearly disclose the types of such data, nor the process of de-identification. Additionally, Silknet clearly declares a specific timeframe (4 years) for deleting user information upon the termination of the account. Meanwhile, Magticom’s disclosed practices are more vague, stating that they store information for as long as it is allowed by law. If there’s no legal specification, it is only stored for as long as needed. Moreover, they retain some personal information for a “reasonable” period of time after the termination of a contract, specific timeframes are provided, nor are the specific types of information it refers to.
The results of the first study of Georgian telecoms' disclosure of their privacy, data protection, and freedom of expression policies demonstrate that there is a need for significant improvement to ensure that their corporate responsibility and transparency are in line with international best practices and human rights standards, considering they both received consolidated results below 50% of the maximum possible score. In particular, information about their services and policies across a number of areas, including transparency reporting, content restrictions, account restrictions, network shutdowns, and handling and securing user information, are not proactively published on their websites.
Under the conditions of rapid development of the digital space, telecommunications operators as large as Magticom and Silknet have a growing responsibility as well as a need to provide their users with information about the terms and conditions of their services as clearly as possible, and proactively inform them about their commitments and procedures for protecting their data. The results of this survey provide an efficient roadmap that should be considered by the target companies to advance their corporate accountability as well as corporate policies on confidentiality and protection of personal data in accordance with international standards.
- Both companies need to implement specific processes for responding to private, government, and court demands to restrict content or accounts, as well as government demands from foreign jurisdictions. If such processes already exist, they need to be disclosed and made available publicly.
- Both companies should disclose on their homepage the number of government demands received by country, the number of accounts affected, the number of pieces of content or URLs affected, the number of government demands by different legal authorities, and the number of government demands which were complied with. This data should preferably be updated at least once a year, and be made available as structured data files.
- Information should be available about the network management practices of the ISPs. Specifically, whether or not they engage in network prioritization, blocking, or delaying traffic for any reason. The companies should clearly disclose that they do not prioritize, block, or delay certain types of traffic, applications, protocols, or content for any reason beyond assuring the quality of service and reliability of the network.
- Processes should be developed and implemented for addressing security vulnerabilities discovered by external security researchers. This includes a submission mechanism, disclosure of a timeframe for responding to submissions, and commitment not to pursue legal action against researchers who report vulnerabilities within the terms of the company's reporting processes.
- A public archive or change log of all amendments to the terms of service should be easily accessible through the homepage and should contain all historical, as well as recent changes.
- The company’s policies should include a process for notifying users about account restrictions, the policy should be as clear and unambiguous as possible and ensure the notification of users in all cases.
- The ISPs need to explicitly disclose their process for restricting service to a group or area of users with a comprehensive list of possible reasons, along with the reasoning behind why it may restrict access to specific applications or protocols (VoIP, messaging, or other services). Furthermore, the process for responding to government demands to shut down a network should be further emphasized, and the number of network shutdown demands received by specific public authorities should be publicly available. A publicly available commitment from ISPs to push back on government demands to shut down networks or restrict access to services is an important step towards safeguarding digital freedoms.
- ISPs should explicitly commit to limiting the collection of user information to what is directly relevant and necessary to accomplish the purpose of their service. Furthermore, ISPs should clearly disclose what types of collected information may be shared, what types of third parties it may be shared with, and for what specific purposes.
- ISPs should clearly disclose how long they retain each type of collected user information, as well as their methods for the de-identification of personal data.
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