Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have announced they are to proceed to amend their terms and conditions of service to bring them in line with EU regulations on consumer protection and guarantee the quick and easy removal of illegal content, whenever they are requested to do so. This means that the EU’s 250 million users will not be required to waiver their inalienable rights, being entitled to lodge their complaints before the courts in Europe rather than having to litigate in California.
The changes made include the following highlights:
- Right to file a complaint in the plaintiff’s country of residence. This means those contracts arranged between consumers and the operators of social networks will be governed by the laws of the country in which the user normally resides, with Twitter being the only company that to date has not issued a statement on this matter.
- Network owners cannot restrict or avoid their responsibilities regarding the services provided, when at the same time they hold consumers fully responsible for their actions.
- Facebook holders are governed by European consumer protection legislation. Twitter and Google+ have yet to make any amendments regarding this matter in their service provider agreements.
- The owners of social networks may not remove a user’s content without a clear justification. In addition, they are to provide the user with an opportunity to appeal against this decision.
- Differentiation between messages of a commercial nature and unsponsored messages, to uphold consumers’ right to distinguish between commercial content and that of a purely informative nature. Facebook has been the first to adopt this measure.
- The owners of social networks may not unilaterally modify the terms and conditions of the service they provide, without clearly explaining the reason for the change and without providing the user with the option of discharging the contract. Twitter and Google+ have yet to introduce these changes.
- The owners of social networks are to clearly explain to users the reasons for closing their accounts. In fact, a user should be informed beforehand of all those terms and conditions that may lead to an account being closed, and under no circumstances should a clause be included whose compliance depends solely on the operator. Furthermore, the user should be given prior notice of the cancellation of their account.
The European Commission has expressed its partial satisfaction with the changes made, although it understands that they only go some way to fulfilling the requirements laid down in EU legislation on consumer affairs. It therefore expects the platforms to make further changes that will enable them to detect, remove and prevent any illegal content their systems may be hosting.
Each country’s consumer authorities and the Commission itself will be supervising the application of the agreed changes, using for this purpose the mechanisms of notification and procedure provided by the operators. What’s more, the authorities in the field may adopt measures, even executive ones, whenever deemed appropriate.