A report compiled at the behest of Belgium’s privacy watchdog has concluded that Facebook’s recently updated data policy and terms of service are illegal under European law.
“To be clear: the changes introduced in 2015 weren’t all that drastic. Most of Facebook’s ‘new’ policies and terms are simply old practices made more explicit. Our analysis indicates, however, that Facebook is acting in violation of European law,” the report’s authors said in a Feb. 23 news release. Academics at the University of Leuven collaborated on the project.
The problematic aspects of the update, implemented Jan. 30, can be summed up as concerns over how data is gathered, what is done with that data, and how users are informed about data collection practices.
The first issue the report addresses is that Facebook places too great a burden on site users. “Users are expected to navigate Facebook’s complex web of settings (which include ‘Privacy,’ ‘Apps,’ ‘Adds,’ ‘Followers,’ etc.) in search of possible opt-outs,” the authors explained, saying that settings regarding profiling and “Social Ads” are of particular concern. Users of the site currently have no control over whether their data will be used to endorse “Sponsored Stories” on their friends’ feeds, and their locations are continuously collected by the platform without notification.
The authors also say that some terms are inadequately defined, as the company never explains in its service agreement which “third party companies,” “service providers” and “other partners” might gain access to user information.
Even if they properly navigate all these settings, users should know that privacy measures won’t prevent social media files from the likes of Facebook and Twitter from becoming fair game as part of litigation, for example. So there’s certainly an incentive to keep any information one truly wants to stay private off social media altogether.
The problem for users, of course, is that they have no negotiating power when it comes to terms and conditions. “Facebook announced the changes more than a month in advance,” the authors of the report noted, “but the choice for its +1 billion users remained the same: agree or leave Facebook.”
Facebook has responded to the criticism saying that it has international offices that ensure compliance with European law and is confident it has not breached any policies.
The full report is available for download by the public.