The Commons Science and Technology Committee has warned social media sites they need to simplify their terms and conditions to protect users.
According to the Parliamentary group, many social networking users are unaware of how their data can be used by websites and apps due to “excessive” length and “complexity” of terms and conditions.
It claims that such documents are not fit as a mechanism for demonstrating that users have given informed consent for some of the ways in which companies are now “exploiting” personal data.
Committee Chair MP Andrew Miller highlighted an “experiment” by Facebook that manipulated user emotions as just one way in which someone clicking “I Agree” on a website’s terms and conditions have been used as informed consent.
“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,” claimed Miller.
“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 government to draw up,” he added.
The Committee also claims to have identified problems with apps requesting access to information they do not need to perform their advertised tasks and wants companies to be more open and transparent about why they should need access to and the right to retain certain data.
“A line needs to be drawn between the information that apps actually need to provide a service and the kind of personal information they request when registering new users, information that is becoming increasingly valuable in our networked society,” Miller claimed.
He added that he would like to see voluntary guidelines in place but if organisations are unwilling to adhere to this, he believes legislation might be required.
The Parliamentary group’s recommendations for the future include the development of an internationally recognised Kitemark as the first step for ensuring the responsible use of citizens’ data by social media platforms and other organisations.
The Committee claims that to date, the government’s approach towards online safety has been “piecemeal” and has focused on immediate needs rather than horizon scanning.
It says that while some good examples of administrative services within Whitehall exist, this is inconsistent as there are other instances where public trust in public services has failed to develop.
“While we expect the government to encourage others to meet high standards, we also want to see it lead by example,” claimed the Committee Chair.
“The government cannot dictate to others, when its own services, like care.data piloted by the NHS, have been found to be less than adequate.
“The government must audit all public sector online services and ensure they provide easy to understand information about usage of personal data,” Miller added.