Internet intermediaries play an increasingly important role in modern societies. Their actions influence the choices we make, the way we exercise our rights, and how we interact. The market dominance of some places them in control of principal modes of public communication. What are the roles they play? How do they impact human rights, democracy and the rule of law? What are their corresponding duties and responsibilities? The Council of Europe has developed human rights-based guidelines to help member states address this challenge.

The term ‘internet intermediaries’ commonly refers to a wide, diverse and rapidly evolving range of service providers that facilitate interactions on the internet between natural and legal persons. Some connect users to the internet, enable processing of data and host web-based services, including for user-generated comments. Others gather information, assist searches, facilitate the sale of goods and services, or enable other commercial transactions. Importantly, they may carry out several functions in parallel, including those that are not merely intermediary. Internet intermediaries also moderate and rank content, mainly through algorithmic processing, and they may perform other functions that resemble those of publishers. As a result, different regulatory frameworks can apply, respectively, to their intermediary roles and to their other functions.

Image © Shutterstock

Principles Principles
Further works Further works

Until the end of 2019, the inter-disciplinary Committee of experts on human rights dimensions of automated data processing and different forms of artificial intelligence (MSI-AUT) will prepare a draft recommendation on the human rights impacts of algorithmic decision-making processes in the public and private sector.

Other relevant documents Other relevant documents
What does the court say What does the court say

 Pihl v. Sweden (application no. 74742/14) A refusal to hold the owner of a blog liable for a defamatory anonymous online comment did not violate the Convention

The applicant had been the subject of a defamatory online comment, which had been published anonymously on a blog. The applicant made a civil claim against the small non-profit association which ran the blog, claiming that it should be held liable for the third-party comment. The applicant complained to the Court that by failing to hold the association liable, the authorities had failed to protect his reputation and had violated his right to respect for his private life. The Court held that the complaint was without merit. In cases such as this, a balance must be struck between an individual’s right to respect for his private life, and the right to freedom of expression enjoyed by an individual or group running an internet portal. In light of the circumstances of this case, the national authorities had struck a fair balance when refusing to hold the association liable for the anonymous comment.