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Social media T&Cs are "meaningless drivel" say MPs

Have you ever been baffled by the terms and conditions that social media sites launch at you every couple of months? If MPs get their way that may become a thing of the past.

Social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, have been told by a report from the Commons Science and Technology committee that their terms are overly long and complex. In many cases, the report argues, users have no idea how their personal information is being used.

Comparing reading the documents to “engaging with Shakespeare”, they added that any reasonable person would struggle to fully read and understand them.

The rules outlined in the terms and conditions have been designed to protect the big companies from court cases rather than inform users, the Commons report states.

Facebook’s mood experiments, where the social network manipulated emotions by varying the stories it published on newsfeeds, has been pointed to as an example of the danger of users just “ticking the box”.

Chairman of the Commons Committee behind the report, Andrew Miller, told NewScientist that he had “serious concerns about the extent to which ticking the 'terms and conditions' box can be said to constitute informed consent when it comes to the varied ways data is now being used by many websites and apps.

"The terms and conditions statement that we all glibly tick is meaningless drivel to anyone except an American trained lawyer,” he added.

Facebook and Twitter have both recently made attempts to clarify their data usage with a series of blog posts. Facebook stated that it had “listened to people who have asked us the better explain how we get and use information.”

The report is calling on the government to set standards by which social media sites have to adhere: users should have to be told explicitly how their personal data is used in clear, concise and simple terms.

The government itself has also been criticised by the report, as its NHS Care data programme is cited as a clear example where the trust between collector and customer has been eroded.