IPANDETEC, a digital rights organization in Central America, today released its first "Who Defends Your Data" (¿Quién Defiende Tus Datos?) report for Nicaragua, assessing how well the country’s mobile phone and Internet service providers (ISPs) are protecting users' personal data and communications. The report follows the series of assessments IPANDETEC has conducted to evaluate the consumer privacy practices of Internet companies in Panama, joining a larger initiative across Latin America and Spain holding ISPs accountable for their privacy commitments.
The organization reviewed six companies: Claro Nicaragua, a subsidiary of the Mexican company America Móvil; Tigo Nicaragua, a subsidiary of Millicom International, headquartered in Luxembourg; Cootel Nicaragua, part of the Chinese Xinwei Group; Yota Nicaragua, a subsidiary of Rostejnologuii, a Russian company; IBW, part of IBW Holding S.A, which provides telecom services across Central America, and Ideay, a local Nicaraguan company.
The ¿Quién Defiende Tus Datos? report looks at whether the companies post data protection policies on their website, disclose how much personal data they collect from users, and whether, and how often, they share it with third parties. Companies are awarded stars for transparency in each of five categories, detailed below. Shining a light on these practices allows consumers to make informed choices about what companies they should entrust their data to.
IPANDETEC’s review shows that, with a few exceptions, Nicaragua’s leading ISPs have a long way to go in providing transparency about how they protect user data. Only three of the six companies surveyed—Claro, Tigo, and Cootel—publish privacy policies on their websites and, with the exception of Tigo, the information provided is limited to policies for collecting data from users visiting their websites. Tigo’s policy provides partial information about data collected beyond the company’s website, earning the company a full star. Cootel comes close—its policy refers to its app Mi Cootel (My Cootel), which allows customers to manage and change services under their contracts with the company. Claro and Cootel received half stars in this category.
Claro and Tigo’s parent companies publish more comprehensive data protection policies, but they are not available on the websites of their Nicaragua subsidiaries and don’t take into account how their practices in Nicaragua comport with the country’s data protection regulations and other laws. Tigo reported it’s working to improve the information available on the local website in its reply to IPANDETEC’s request for additional information.
Tigo received a half star for its partial commitment to a policy of requiring court authorization before providing the content of users’ communications to authorities. Claro received a quarter star in this category. The ISP's local policy for requiring court authorization is not clear enough, although the global policy of its parent company America Movil is explicit on this requirement. Both companies have fallen short in showing a similar explicit commitment when handing users' metadata—such as names, subject line information, and creation date of messages–to authorities.
Tigo earned a quarter star for making public guidelines for how law enforcement can access users’ information, primarily on account of Millicom’s global law enforcement assistance policy. The guidelines establish steps that must be taken locally when the company is responding to law enforcement requests, but they are general and not specific to Nicaragua’s legal framework. Moreover, the policy is available only in English on Millicom’s website. Claro’s subsidiaries in Chile and Peru publish such guidelines; unfortunately the company’s Nicaraguan unit does not.
The IPANDETEC report shows that all the top Internet companies in Nicaragua need to step up their transparency game—none publish transparency reports disclosing how many law enforcement requests for user data they receive. Tigo’s parent company Millicom publishes annual transparency reports, but the most recent one didn’t include information about its operations in Nicaragua. Millicom said it plans to include Nicaragua in future reports.
The companies were evaluated on specific criteria listed below. For more information on each company, you can find the full report on IPANDETEC’s website.
Data Protection Policy: Does the company post a data protection policy on its website? Is the policy written in clear and easily accessible language? Does the policy establish the retention period for user data?
Transparency Report: Does the company publish a transparency report? Is the report easily accessible? Does the report list the number of government requests received, accepted, and rejected?
User Notification: Does the company publicly commit to notifying users, as soon as the law allows, when their information is requested by law enforcement authorities?
Judicial Authorization: Does the company publicly commit to request judicial authorization before handing users’ communications content and metadata
Law Enforcement Guidelines: Does the company outline public guidelines on how law enforcement can access users’ information?
Digital devices and Internet access allow people to stay connected with family and friends and have access to information and entertainment. But technology users around the world are concerned about privacy. It’s imperative for ISPs in Nicaragua to be transparent about if, and how, they are safekeeping users’ private information. We hope to see big strides from them in future reports.