Facebook Will Clarify its Terms and Conditions on Data Use Amid Rising Calls for Penalties
Given the ongoing controversies relating to how Facebook user data has been used and misused by various groups - particularly those with political affiliations - Facebook is coming under increasing pressure to better outline exactly how it uses such insights, while others are also calling for the company to be held accountable for the content it hosts, and how it can be used for negative consequence.
On the first point, and as reported by TechCrunch, Facebook has this week agreed to amend its terms and conditions to better clarify that "free access to its service is contingent on users’ data being used to profile them to target with ads".
The new regulation comes in response to mounting pressure from the European Commission, which is also responsible for the implementation of the broader data protection laws (GDPR) that were rolled out last year.
As explained by the EU:
"The new terms detail what services Facebook sells to third parties that are based on the use of their user's data, how consumers can close their accounts, and under what reasons accounts can be disabled. These developments come after exchanges which were aimed at obtaining full disclosure of Facebook's business model, and communicating that in plain language to users."
And while this regulation is specifically focused on Europe, and complicity with European laws, Facebook has said that the amended terms and conditions will be applied globally as part of the company's broader efforts on transparency.
What the exact wording of the document will now be is not clear, but the EU is touting this as a major win for consumers, better enabling them to make an informed decision about Facebook usage based on the personal data they'll have to provide in exchange.
Will it make much of a difference?
That depends - do you read the full terms and conditions in full before you click on that 'I agree' box at the bottom?
In practical terms, it likely won't have a huge impact, but it may provide more legal recourse for violations, while also moving in line with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's push for more input from government regulators on what's acceptable within social networking and data usage.
Along similar lines, both the UK and Australian governments have recently laid the groundwork for new laws which would increase the onus on social platforms to be responsible for the content distributed through their networks.
In Australia, the Federal Government has approved new legislation which would implement significant fines, and even jail time for social platform executives, if they fail to “remove abhorrent violent material expeditiously”. The regulations come in the wake of the Christchurch shooting, in which the shooter live-streamed his actions on Facebook. Under the regulation, Australia's eSafety Commissioner would be tasked with requesting content takedowns, which would then put the onus on social platforms to act.
But the regulations are flawed - what, for example, 'expeditiously' means, in practical terms, is unclear, which would larger render the rule unenforceable in most, if not all, cases.
In the UK, the government has released a new 'Online Harms' white paper which outlines a proposed new approach to social network accountability, and takes a similar stance to Australia's regulations.
As noted by The Verge's Casey Newton:
"The UK white paper contains perhaps the most sweeping set of potential regulations to date. Lawmakers intend to establish a new regulatory agency and “code of practice” to guide internet companies on what is required of them; empower that agency to fine companies (and executives) that fail to meet its standards; and require internet service providers to block access to sites that fail do not adhere to its “code of practice.”"
As with the Australian laws, the specifics are still unclear, and it'll take some time to establish an effective set of laws to cater to various areas of potential misuse. But it is interesting to see the tide shifting - and while, at present, there's no real threat to how platforms operate, you can see that it is coming - there will soon, most likely, be a broader government shift that'll impose harsher, more stringent regulations on social platforms in regards to the content they host, and the actions they facilitate.
It's still very early in the process, but the wheels are now turning, and these regulations will eventually have significant implications for digital marketers and regular users alike.
It's definitely worth keeping an eye on such negotiations, and noting the changes in platform tools as a result.
Follow Andrew Hutchinson on Twitter