In the wake of harsh criticism from U.S. legislators last year regarding their willingness to do business in countries that don't value and protect citizens' freedoms, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo agreed to participate in the Global Network Initiative. The group promotes a voluntary code of conduct that governs the companies' activities to protect the free flow of information, according to a Datamation report at the time.
Unfortunately, the The New York Times reported this week, not a single Internet company beyond the original trio has taken part. In fact, Facebook and Twitter have turned down invitations to join. At a time when the need for Internet freedom couldn't be more pronounced, given the role the Web has played in the revolution spreading across the Middle East, their absence is sorely felt.
Global Network Initiative board member Bennett Freeman told the NYT:
We are going to have to add some new companies soon to be truly influential.
But to this point, recruiting efforts have been dismal. Many companies decline because they don't see a financial benefit in joining or they find the audit process too burdensome, the story says. For example, independent auditors will consider, among other things, whether the companies "narrowly interpret government demands for user information and whether they store users' data in countries where free speech is protected."
The biggest obstacle to joining the network, however, may be the shades of gray in which the issues often present themselves. Especially where risk management and compliance are concerned, companies want a concrete action plan. But there aren't always clear rights and wrongs-in business or in life. We do the best we can with the information we have at the time.
And providing a forum where participants can exchange information or advice is one thing at which the Global Network Initiative has excelled, according to the NYT.