Internet intermediary refers to a company that facilitates the use of the
Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected computer networks that uses the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to communicate between networks and devices. It is a ''internetworking, network of networks'' that consist ...

. Such companies include
internet service provider An Internet service provider (ISP) is an organization that provides a myriad of services for accessing, using, or participating in the Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected computer networks that ...
s (ISPs),
search engine A search engine is a software system A software system is a system of intercommunicating software component, components based on forming part of a computer system (a combination of Computer hardware, hardware and software). It "consists of a n ...
s and
social media Social media are interactive technologies that facilitate the creation Creation may refer to: Religion * Creation ''ex nihilo'', the concept that matter was created by God out of nothing * Creation myth A creation myth (or cosmogonic myth) ...

social media


According to
OECD The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; french: Organisation de Coopération et de Développement Économiques, OCDE) is an intergovernmental economic organisation with 38 member countries, founded in 1961 to st ...

, and cited by
UNESCO The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (french: Organisation des Nations unies pour l'éducation, la science et la culture) is a specialised agency United Nations Specialized Agencies are autonomous orga ...

, Internet intermediaries can be defined as organizations (primarily, for-profit companies) that "bring together or facilitate transactions between third parties on the Internet. They give access to, host, transmit and index content, products and services originated by third parties on the Internet or provide Internet-based services to third parties" and lists the following organizations as fitting this definition:The Economic and Social Role of Internet Intermediaries
OECD, 2010, p.9
Rebecca MacKinnon, Elonnai Hickok, Allon Bar, Hae-in Lim, UNESCO
Fostering Freedom Online: the Role of Internet Intermediaries
UNESCO. 2014, p.19-23
# Internet access and service providers (ISPs); # Data processing and web hosting providers, including domain name registrars; # Internet search engines and portals; # E-commerce intermediaries, where these platforms do not take title to the goods being sold; # Internet payment systems; and # Participative networking platforms, which include Internet publishing and broadcasting platforms that do not themselves create or own the content being published or broadcast.

UNESCO study of 2014

In 2014 UNESCO released a report on the Internet intermediaries relation to
digital rights Digital rights are those human rights Human rights are moral principles or normsJames Nickel, with assistance from Thomas Pogge, M.B.E. Smith, and Leif Wenar, 13 December 2013, Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyHuman Rights Retrieved 14 ...
worldwide. It found that Operations of internet intermediaries are heavily influenced by the legal and policy environments of states.Rebecca MacKinnon, Elonnai Hickok, Allon Bar, Hae-in Lim, UNESCO
Fostering Freedom Online: the Role of Internet Intermediaries
UNESCO. 2015, p.10-13
According to the UNESCO study, levels of transparency of Internet service providers on matters related to privacy and surveillance are very low. Data protection practices varied widely in tandem with whether or not countries had data protection laws. Few companies make an effort to be transparent about how they respond to government requests, or speak up for their users, even in relatively open political and media environments. Some companies do not have publicly available privacy policies for their core services. Search engines’ policies and practices related to content restriction and manipulation are shaped by their home jurisdictions and to varying degrees by other jurisdictions in which they operate. The stricter the intermediary liability regime in a given jurisdiction, the more likely content is to be removed either proactively by the company or upon request by authorities without challenge. Without government transparency, company transparency reports are the only way for users to ascertain the extent and nature of requests being made. While such transparency reports are presented by American
Google Google LLC is an American multinational Multinational may refer to: * Multinational corporation, a corporate organization operating in multiple countries * Multinational force, a military body from multiple countries * Multinational stat ...

search engine, they are not released by Russian
Yandex Yandex N.V. (; russian: link=no, Яндекс, p=ˈjandəks) is a multinational corporation primarily for Russian and Russian-language users, providing 70 Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected comp ...

and Chinese
Baidu Baidu, Inc. (, meaning "a hundred times" or "a hundred degrees", anglicized ) is a Chinese multinational technology company A technology company (or tech company) is an electronics The field of electronics is a branch of physics and elec ...
companies. For the two platforms with international user bases (
Facebook Facebook is an American online social media and social networking service owned by Meta Platforms. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with fellow Harvard College students and roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, an ...

Twitter Twitter is an American microblogging Microblogging is an online Broadcasting, broadcast medium that exists as a specific form of blogging. A micro-blog differs from a traditional blog in that its content is typically smaller in both actu ...

), UNESCO researchers identified tensions between the companies’ own policies and practices and governments’ laws and regulations. The policies and practices of the more domestically focused platforms more closely mirror home governments’ expectations and requirements. Companies are much more transparent about how they respond to government requests than they are about the nature and volume of content restricted for violation of their own private rules. There is significant concern amongst some human rights advocates, including for example those working to stop gender-based violence and
online hate speech Online hate speech is a type of speech that takes place online with the purpose of attacking a person or a group based on their race (human categorization), race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. Online hate spe ...
, about companies’ lack of communication with users about how terms of service are developed, interpreted and enforced. UNESCO recommended that



Further reading

Comparative Study Of National Approaches To Internet Intermediary LiabilityInternet intermediaries. Definitions, economic models and role in the value chain
Internet terminology Internet, Terminology Computing terminology World Wide Web, Terminology Internet culture, Terminology {{CatAutoTOC ...
Telecommunications organizations