Facebook faces transparency challenges as MPs call for action on social media data use

Facebook has had better weeks. First its role in a conversation between Lee Rigby’s murderers drew criticism from the Intelligence Security committee and now a new report from the Science and Technology committee has called for the Government to consider new guidelines for the social network’s terms and conditions.

The ‘Responsible use of data’ report by the cross party group of MPs, released today (28 November), claims that users may not be aware of how personal data is used by social media sites because their terms
and conditions are too complex and lengthy. Facebook’s current terms and conditions do not demonstrate that users have given informed consent for some of the ways that companies are now exploiting data, according to the MPs.

Although several social media platforms were mentioned in the report, Facebook’s research experiment that manipulated users’ moods was used as an example of how sites may be exploiting customer ignorance.

In July, Facebook was investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office amid concerns of a breach of data laws after the social network conducted a psychology experiment on nearly 70,000 users without their knowledge.

Andrew Miller MP, chair of the Science and Technology committee, says: “Facebook’s experiment with users emotions highlighted serious concerns about the extent to which, ticking the terms and conditions box, can be said to constitute informed consent when it comes to the varied ways data is now being used by many websites and apps.

He adds that he hopes most social media developers “will be happy” to sign up to new guidelines on clear communication and informed consent and that he is asking Government to begin work on them.

Reputational damage

Concerns over how Facebook uses data was cited as the main reason why 26% of people who have left the social network over the past year did so, according to YouGov’s recent ‘Social Media 2014’ report.

Facebook declined to comment on the actions it will take following the committee’s report.

The platform has just updated its privacy setting, showing a simplified version of its policies. The committee report’s witnesses provided their information in July.