Facebook Changes User Terms Under Pressure From European Commission

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's Parse Developer Day, 2013. Credit: Facebook

The changes for the first time clearly spell out Facebook’s business model of selling user data for use in targeted advertising

The European Commission said Facebook is to make changes its terms and conditions, for the first time clearly spelling out to users its business model of making income from sales of their personal data.

The changes, set to be introduced by the end of June at the latest, explain in plain language how the company’s business model is based on the use of its users’ data to develop profiling activities and deliver targeted advertising.

The new terms detail what services Facebook sells to third parties for the use of users’ data, how consumers can close their accounts and under what circumstances accounts may be disabled by the firm.

The changes, brought about through negotiations by Facebook with the Commission and national consumer protection authorities, also involve other alterations aimed at bringing the company’s terms and conditions inline with European consumer law.

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They follow a number of scandals involving users’ personal data and security details.

“Now, users will clearly understand that their data is used by the social network to sell targeted ads,” said justice commissioner Vera Jourova.

The Commission said Facebook would also change its policy on limitation of liability to acknowledge its responsibility in case of negligence, for instance in cases where data has been mishandled by third parties, and would limit its power to unilaterally change terms and conditions to cases where the changes are “reasonable”.

Facebook will now only retain content that has been deleted by users in specific cases, such as a request by law enforcement, and for a maximum of 90 days if the retention is due to technical purposes

New language will also clarify users’ right to appeal in cases where their content has been removed, the Commission said.

It said Twitter and Google’s Google+ social networks have also been asked to improve contract terms.

As EU elections loom this year, governments are under pressure to be seen taking action against large overseas tech companies such as Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, which are widely considered to take too free a hand with users’ personal information while paying substantially lower taxes than organisations based in Europe.

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