MPs label Twitter and Facebook T&Cs 'more complex than Shakespeare'

A group of MPs has demanded that social media sites make their terms and conditions clearer, arguing that their complexity means consumers unknowingly sign away use of their personal data.

Social media: 'bamboozling' consumers with complex T&Cs
Social media: 'bamboozling' consumers with complex T&Cs

The Science and Technology Committee has called on the Government to work with the Information Commissioner to develop a "set of information standards that websites and apps can sign up to".

The committee used Facebook’s research experiment manipulating users’ emotions, which caused a furore and led various Facebook execs to issue half-hearted apologies, as an example of how social media sites are exploiting consumer ignorance.

The committee’s 'Responsible Use of Data' report said terms and conditions were often "totally impenetrable" and "more complex than Shakespeare".

The group of MPs insisted that the excessive length and complexity of the terms and conditions that users must agree to leave consumers unaware of how their data can be used.

The committee wants social media sites, websites and apps to explain in "clear, concise and simple terms" how sites use personal data.

The report argues that the contracts, or terms and conditions, that consumers sign up to are "not fit as a mechanism for demonstrating that users have given informed consent for some of the ways companies are exploiting personal data".

While the MPs are calling on government to enforce higher standards, the report stressed that the Government itself should "lead by example", describing services such as the NHS’s Care.data service as "less than adequate".

Andrew Miller MP, the chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: "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.

"Let’s face it, most people click 'yes' to terms and conditions contracts without reading them, because they are often laughably long and written in the kind of legalese you need a law degree from the USA to understand.

"Socially responsible companies wouldn’t want to bamboozle their users, of course, so we are sure most social media developers will be happy to sign up to the new guidelines on clear communication and informed consent that we are asking the Government to draw up."

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