Customer trust is critical for any business, but especially so for the major internet and telecommunications companies that routinely gather massive amounts of personal data concerning and affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world.
Disclosures in 2013 of surveillance programs run by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) have highlighted the increasingly complex relationship between legitimate law enforcement and national security concerns and the need to protect individual privacy in the digital age.
In December 2013, following the filing of proposals by members of the Open MIC shareholder coalition, Verizon and AT&T agreed that they would begin to publish regular reports on the number of government requests they receive for customer data. The Washington Post said the companies’ announcements followed “immense pressure” from shareholders and privacy groups and set “a significant precedent for the telecommunications industry,” which traditionally keeps that information private.
The shareholder campaign was cited in dozens of press reports, including front page of the Business section of The New York Times; members of the Open MIC investor coalition made appearances on Fox News, NPR and other major broadcast outlets.
In 2016, a shareholder proposal by Arjuna Capital pressing American Express to file a report on its privacy practices - including government requests for customer data - won 22% of the shareholder vote despite strong opposition from the company.