General Data Protection Regulations
Georgia Institute of Technology
Sara Harrington
Stella Kimani

Facebook scam triggers review of social media private policies

Online firms are seeking to show users that their personal information is safe.

Social media companies have taken a step to reaffirm their commitment to data protection and have simplified the language used in the terms of service contracts. file photo | nmg

Technology and social media companies such as Microsoft, Twitter and LinkedIn have updated their privacy policies in the last two months in a bid to assure their users that their personal information is safe and a selling point to encourage them to continue using their platforms. However, studies show that only an average 17 per cent of users read the privacy policies. LinkedIn for instance, which has one million monthly users in Kenya according to the latest State of the Internet Report, in March sent an email notifying them of its updates stating that it was making changes that will be effective May 8, 2018 to its user agreement, privacy policy, cookie policy and professional community policies. “We have added more controls and choices about the data that can be used to personalise ads. We have also updated language about when users allow advertisers to get access to their personal information. We make it easier to understand how we customize your experience based on your data, including what you see, what we suggest and how we generate insights,” said Sara Harrington, vice president of legal at LinkedIn in a statement.

The move comes after the Facebook privacy scandal this year in which it was alleged that the social media network misused the data of up to 50 million users that sparked the #DeleteFacebook movement. Therefore, to prevent users from deleting their accounts, companies have taken a step to reaffirm their commitment to data protection and have simplified the language used in the terms of service contracts. “Social media websites have become an advertising platform for brands and one way in which the likes of Facebook earn their revenue. So if users delete their accounts it will be bad for business as it will lose one of the main ways they generate revenue, therefore, the need to assure them of data protection,” said Stella Kimani, a brand strategist. In 2018, global social media advertising revenue is projected to amount to $51.3 billion, according to Statista. However, many users hardly read the privacy content; they skim right through to tick the box that reads ‘I agree to the terms and conditions’.In fact, in a 2015 online survey on digital rights conducted by Scoopshot, a photo and video service that connects content creators with advertisers, found that 37 per cent of the people who said they do not read the privacy policies do not do it because they take too long to read while 50 per cent said it is because they have to agree to them anyway in order to use the platform, so there is no need to read them. “Over 30 per cent of the 1,250 global respondents said that they never read privacy policies when signing up to a social network, 50 per cent said they only read it sometimes and only 17.56 per cent of the respondents said that they always read them,” reported Scoopshot. The other driving force behind the updated privacy policies is the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25, 2018.The GDPR is a regulation that requires companies to protect the personal data and privacy of its users. It states that companies should use plain language when getting user consent for data harvesting. “The conditions for consent have been strengthened, and companies will no longer be able to use long illegible terms and conditions full of legalese, as the request for consent must be given in an intelligible and easily accessible form, with the purpose for data processing attached to that consent,” read the GDPR report.Indeed, the language used in privacy policies can be hard to understand for users and also so long that they tire from reading them. Research conducted in 2014 by the Georgia Institute of Technology that analysed data from 30 social networks and fan sites found that the Twitter’s terms of service had 3,846 words, Facebook’s had 4,477 words, Wikipedia 5,773 words LinkedIn’s had 7,294 words.“Most terms of service are written at a college and graduate school reading level. Reading the terms of service of all 30 websites that we analysed in one sitting would take an individual eight hours,” reported the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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