Top 10 achievements in 2021 and why they are important for everyone

In 2021 Privacy International continued to produced real change by challenging governments and corporations that use data and technology to exploit us. And, we produced substantial impact that directly affects each of us.

Long Read

Photo via dan_stark on Unsplash

Here are just 10 of our biggest achievements in 2021.


In 2021 we effectively challenged big tech companies including Google, Facebook, Tecno, and smaller and equally urgent companies like Clearview AI, Web-IQ, Palantir etc. and achieved substantial impact including:

- Popular diet apps include better protections in their products
Many diet sites and apps ask you to take tests to create profiles of your body and eating habits. They claim that this is to design a dieting programme specific for your needs. PI looked into three of these companies and found that your data was inappropriately collected, stored and used. After publication of our research and subsequent engagement, two of the online diet companies we investigated changed their privacy controls. One firm stopped explicitly sharing test answers with third parties.

- Regulators in UK, France, and Italy took action against Clearview AI
Clearview AI claims to have built a gigantic database of our biometrics, by extracting our personal data from social media, blogs, and professional websites, then using AI to a develop a facial recognition tool it then shares with the police or even private companies. Together with organisations from Austria, Greece, and Italy, we filed complaints against Clearview with national data protection regulators. Consequently, the UK, French and Italian data protection authorities took action against Clearview AI, by, for example, ordering it to stop collecting and processing the data of people in their countries; the UK regulator issued a provisional intent to fine the firm £17m, while the Italian authority issued a €20 million fine. Business models like this threaten our fundamental liberties and exploit our facial data for profit. These fines send a message that there is no place for this in society.

- Strengthened data security for users of lower-cost tech
Low-cost phones frequently come with vulnerable pre-installed apps, outdated operating systems and limited support. In 2021 we ran a campaign to fix this situation. As a result, in response to our engagement and pressure, Google mentioned that the JioPhone Next, a new low-cost phone launched with Reliance in India, will receive the latest Android operating system and security updates.

We have also put pressure on Apple and Google, both companies implementing additional privacy controls, including the ability for users to block third-party tracking, which were explicitly reflected in our recommendations. For more details please see Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update and Google’s announcement regarding Privacy Sandbox on Android.

For more information about PI’s work with companies, check out our pieces about the Facebook-Giphy merger, Palantir and Tecno.


- Legal wins against mass-surveillance
For decades governments’ mass-surveillance remained secret and unregulated. We intervened to change the situation and produced real impact.
After an eight-year journey, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s mass surveillance regime, first exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013, breached people’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression. This is huge development because the decision puts pressure on all the Council of Europe 46 European countries to review their surveillance laws and practices. Also in 2021, after a long legal battle, the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that massive data collection about UK citizens from phones and internet companies was against the EU law. We also contributed to significant decisions in South Africa (on bulk data interception) and France (bulk data retention and surveillance practices). To find out more, please have a look at our brief history of legal wins.

- Continuing to fight the global Covid-19 data grab with better protections within global standards for vaccination certificates
After governments around the world started deploying Covid-19 vaccination certificates, the World Health Organisation (WHO) began developing its technical specifications and guidance how to implement them. PI engaged with the WHO, and some of our recommendations were integrated into the final WHO documentation. We demanded that governments recognise the risks not just in relation to privacy but also exclusion/discrimination, and that the WHO include a requirement that governments protect human rights.

- New standards established to protect elections, through working with sector leaders
The entire election cycle is increasingly data dependent. Data exploitation during the election cycle poses substantial risks to the democratic process. In 2021 PI actively engaged with election observers on data exploitation, contributing to election observation reports and country assessments. For instance, we collaborated with the Carter Center on the Myanmar election. This is setting the ground for new standards in how elections are observed globally.

- New law to regulate police access to mobile phones in UK
PI contributed to the development of the new UK Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Policing Bill). PI’s advocacy led to the development of a component of the new UK Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Policing Bill) that regulates government searches of devices. While the Bill provides a much needed framework for such searches, it still raises substantial concerns, which is why we continued to advocate for its improvement. As a result of pressure created by PI and others, the UK Parliament proposed amendments to the Police, Crime and sentencing Bill, some of them reflecting our demands.


- Our campaign brought Uber to the table with the support of the public and unions
After researching the unprecedented surveillance that gig economy workers are facing from their employers, we decided to publicly challenge these practices.
In 2021 PI together with the Worker Info Exchange (WIE) and the App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) launched a “Managed by Bots” campaign challenging the surveillance techniques deployed by some of the biggest companies in the gig economy sector. The campaign was supported by over 1800 people, including many gig-economy workers. The campaign provided an opportunity for people to speak out about their rights and demand better protections. As the result of the campaign Uber invited PI and our partners WIE and ADCU to discuss existing issues and potential solutions.

Other successful campaigns conducted in 2021 were: Stop Spying on Asylum Seekers, and Sign a ban on biometric mass-surveillance

- Privacy International supported partner organisations around the world to produce impact
In 2021 we supported our network of partner organisations across the world to research and create change in their countries. One of the illustrative examples is related to resolving the double-registration problem in Kenya. Led by Haki Na Sheria, we put pressure on the Kenyan government to provide national ID cards to individuals caught in a double registration problem – people registered as refugees by UNHCR despite also being Kenyan nationals. This was being used by the Kenyan government to deny them the ability to register for a Kenyan national ID. Our collective pressure contributed to the government’s decision to issue around 14,000 IDs to double registration victims. While there are still thousands more affected by this situation, which is not fully resolved, the progress so far will be life changing for those given an ID.

- We helped people to better understand the risks and take concrete steps to protect themselves
The use of technology in everyday life poses substantial risks, which could be dramatically reduced by taking simple steps.
In 2021 we produced a range of educational materials including a series of guides on how to protect from online tracking providing concrete steps to increase protection on social media, messengers, browsers etc. and ‘free to protest guides’ revealing a wide range of surveillance tools used to identify and track protesters, and some steps to protect against them. Our guides have been adapted and used by partner organisations in 5 countries, and are actively used by activists and general public.