Companies have been relying for years on the notion of informed consent, the idea that they can dictate the terms of their interactions with customers and do what they want with customers’ information as long as they disclose what they’re doing.
But that notion came into serious question at Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearings on Capitol Hill this week.
Lawmakers noted that Facebook’s terms of service are long and filled with legalese, and got Zuckerberg to acknowledge that few users likely read them completely.
The interactions exposed just what a fiction the notion of informed consent is.
The frustrations raised by the lawmakers could result in regulatory changes.
If Mark Zuckerberg’s appearances before Congress this week did nothing else, they should have made absolutely clear to policymakers of all stripes that one of the bedrock assumptions long made in privacy law and contracts is a complete and utter fraud.
For years now, web services, app makers, and other companies have been operating on the notion of informed consent. That’s the idea that such companies can do whatever they want to with consumer data, or structure their interactions with consumers just about any way they want, as long as they disclose those practices and conditions first.
But as several members of Congress illustrated in their interactions with Facebook’s CEO, when it comes to the social network, that notion is a joke. Facebook’s terms of service document is more than 3,200 words long and includes 30 links to supplemental documents, noted Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Its data policy is another 2,700 words and includes more than 20 links.
I think the point has been well made that people really have no earthly idea of what they’re signing up for
As Schatz put it: “I think the point has been well made that people really have no earthly idea of what they’re signing up for.”
In an earlier interaction, Zuckerberg essentially acknowledged the point, saying he thought the average user didn’t read Facebook’s entire terms of service document. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, pounced on that concession, striking right at the assumption of informed consent by name.
Given that not everybody reads or understands the terms of services, “is that to suggest that the consent that people give subject to that terms of service is not informed consent? In other words, they may not read it, and even if they read it, they may not understand it?” he asked.
Zuckerberg didn’t answer Cornyn’s question. But to ask it is to answer it.
Facebook users almost certainly don’t understand its terms of service
The vast majority of Facebook users almost certainly haven’t fully read the company’s various terms of service. And even among those that have read the terms, most likely don’t understand what they mean or imply, particularly …read more
Source:: Business Insider