ResearchTransparency and Accountability

Chris Parsons on the (in)effectiveness of voluntarily produced transparency reports

As more companies increasingly produce transparency reports, a pertinent question presents itself: how effective are they in altering behaviour of both corporations and governments? In a recent paper for Business and Society, Citizen Lab’s Chris Parsons examines this in detail. This paper is part of a forthcoming special issue of Business and Society, for which Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert was a co-editor.


This article analyzes the relative effectiveness and limitations of companies’ voluntarily produced transparency reports in promoting change in firm and government behavior. Such reports are published by telecommunications companies and disclose how often and on what grounds government agencies compel customer data from these companies. These reports expose corporate behaviors while lifting the veil of governmental secrecy surrounding these kinds of compulsions. Fung, Graham, and Weil’s “targeted transparency” model is used to evaluate the extent to which these reports affect behavior. From the analysis, it is evident that telecommunications companies’ transparency reports are only partially effective; while firms may modify their reports to present more information, these reports do not necessarily induce government to more broadly reveal its own activities. The article ultimately suggests that voluntarily produced transparency reports may become more comparable with one another as a result of either corporate reports evolving in consultation with external stakeholders or following a crisis that prompts government or industry to adopt a given standard. Such standards may positively influence the effectiveness of reports while concealing as much about firm behaviors as they purport to reveal.

Read the full article here.