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French Consumer Group Sues U.S. Social Networks

French Consumer Group Sues U.S. Social Networks
By Seth Fitzgerald

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Facebook, Twitter and Google are being sued by French consumer group, UFC-Que Choisir, because of the inability of consumers to truly have control of their data once it is placed in the hands of these social networks. UFC-Que Choisir wants Facebook, Twitter and Google to change their terms of use agreements and be more upfront with users.
 


U.S. social networks are once again under fire, this time from French consumer rights group UFC-Que Choisir. The group has filed a lawsuit in the Paris high court because it views some of the business practices used by Twitter, Facebook, and Google as “abusive” and “illegal.”

UFC-Que Choisir’s primary complaint is that all three of the social networks have convoluted terms of use agreements and despite requests to change the documents and limit the collection of user data, none of the networks are budging.

With the help of YouTube videos and a news release, UFC-Que Choisir -- otherwise known as the Federal Union of Consumers -- tries to explain why the terms of use policies at the social networks are not fair to consumers. The organization said that it put the companies on notice in June 2013 but even now, the “conditions are still inaccessible, unreadable, filled with hyperlinks -- between 40 and 100 hypertext links -- sometimes referring to pages in English.”

Personal Control

The inability of consumers to truly have control of their data once it is placed in the hands of social networks concerns UFC-Que Choisir, which cited a recent survey indicating the difficulty people have managing their information. According to that survey, protection of personal data is a major concern for 85 percent of French citizens, yet only 24 percent of those surveyed were able to completely erase their online personal data.

Not only are people unable to tell what they are agreeing when they create accounts on the social networks, but their data is also exploited, according to UFC-Que Choisir. “Worse, the networks persist in [authorizing] the widespread collection, modification, preservation and use of the data of users and even of those around them," the organization said.

By bringing these complaints to the French judicial system, the group hopes that the judges will “order the suppression or modification of the myriad of contentious clauses imposed by these companies." This would mean that Facebook, Twitter, and Google would have change their policies and be more upfront with users.

Bad Terms Of Use

Anyone who has ever signed up for a large service like Twitter, iTunes, Facebook, etc., knows that terms of use agreements are usually very long and complex and therefore, very few people actually read them. Creating such complicated terms of use agreements is not inherently illegal, but it is a way for some companies to sneak in terms that many users would not support.

“Under E.U. law, personal data can only be gathered legally under strict conditions, for a legitimate purpose,” according to the European Union. “ Furthermore, persons or [organizations] which collect and manage your personal information must protect it from misuse and must respect certain rights of the data owners which are guaranteed by E.U. law.”

One aspect of the E.U.’s personal data rules is that consumers must have a way to know how companies will be using their information. These rules have not been implemented by all European nations, but UFC-Que Choisir still hopes that the French judges will find that the social networks must reform their terms of use agreements.
 

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