We are all guilty of scrolling past painfully long and complex Terms and Conditions texts without ever bothering to read them. We just scroll right all the way down to the box that says ‘I agree to these terms’. But what exactly are we agreeing to?
Perhaps, the last thing someone opening an Instagram account wants to bother with is the pain of reading over 130 paragraphs of complex legal jargon. All you really want to do is take pictures and share with friends, not start an online degree, right?
However, over 50 million Facebook users who didn’t read before agreeing to the terms and conditions recently got their fingers burnt. Their personal information was used to influence the US Presidential elections in Trump’s favour ‘without their consent’, and no law was broken in the process. This has raised moral, ethical, as well as legal questions bordering around what exactly we agree to, whenever we click on ‘I agree to these terms’ on Social networking sites as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
This is the best way to understand Facebook: it is an advertising company. They make money by collecting information about you, and then use that information to sell targeted ads. In essence, they act as a go-between to the consumers and the advertisers by collecting information from consumers to know their preferences and then selling this information to the advertisers. They pull every information about you and, with this, decide which ads you will consider beneficial.
Here are some shocking things that they can do with your “basic” information:
Access call logs and texts
If you use an android phone, they are legally allowed to collect your contact information; this includes your call logs and text histories.
Access WhatsApp and Instagram accounts
WhatsApp and Instagram are part of Facebook, and whatever you agree to on Facebook is binding to you on all platforms. Simply put, they can access your information legally on all platforms.
Access private conversations
Their automated tools geared towards preventing terrorist or abusive behaviour on the platform legally empowers them to have access to your private conversations.
Access information from visited websites
They do this through their social plug-in (‘like’ and ‘share’) feature embedded on other websites. Anytime you visit such websites, Facebook receives information about your visit to that site. This is shared with Facebook even if you don’t have a Facebook account.
Give out your information
Facebook reserves the right to use your information as long as they have:
a. Received your express permission by clicking on ‘I agree’.
b. Told you they would do so.
c. Created a sense of anonymity (such as removing your name).
Your information stays with them even after deleting the app.
All your conversations with other platform users or group posts are going to remain Facebook’s proprietary rights even after you have deleted your account.
Own third-party information about you
Any content that is about you, but controlled by someone else, is out of your hands but owned by Facebook.
Track actions on the web using cookies
We live in a world where information rules and anyone who can control all of this information controls the world. We, the people, must have a say regarding the extent of our information that can be accessed and shared by these companies because that’s the sane way to proceed as technology advances and dominates human coexistence.
It is, therefore, no surprise that progressive countries like Belgium and the UK in the EU are adopting the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is aimed at increasing their citizens’ rights over these tech companies. Under Article 17’s Right to be Forgotten and a Right to Erasure, an individual can enforce his/her rights to demand erasure of personal data without undue delay. The regulation also has provisions that deal with Right to Consent, which imposes a duty on tech companies to use intelligible, precise and plain language when seeking your consent. This takes the place of those complex and lengthy legal constructions that no one reads.
Just before you get too excited, these consumer protection regulations will not apply in many countries in Africa. Whether African countries like Nigeria will ever summon the resources, clout and willpower to regulate tech giants like Facebook, just as the UK and Belgium are attempting, is a discourse for another day.