(This post is part 1/n of what’s happening in the US Congress post the Zuckerberg testimony.)
If (like me) you spent hours watching Zuckerberg testify before the US Congress, then you’d remember how several legislators promised Facebook they would be tabling bills to regulate social media.
Well, it’s just over two weeks after Zuck’s testimony, and the first such bill is already tabled before the Senate. Sponsored by Democrat Senator Klobuchar and Republican Senator Kennedy, the Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Bill, 2018 centers around important principles of user consent and compulsory breach notification.
The bill stresses on drafting the terms and conditions in simple English so that users know exactly what data the website wants to collect, store and process. It also puts the ball back in the user’s court by allowing her to delete her social media data once she becomes aware of a breach.
Well-intentioned as it is, it looks like the Kennedy-Klobuchar bill retains a “Take It or Leave It” binary. It proposes solid user protection and rights, but most of them are squarely based on the power of the data collector to provide only two polar options to the user – to opt-in to its terms, or to opt-out of the platform completely.
If you’ve been so bored that you’ve read your favourite app’s terms and conditions, you will know that several of them today are a binary.
These are called “Take it or Leave It” clauses – so, if a user does not agree to a particular clause her only option is often to not sign up on the platform at all. While this provides simple, easy to understand options to the user, it is also a problem because it may make the user accept terms she is unhappy with. This is why, one of the suggestions data privacy advocates make is that companies collecting data devise smarter, non-binary ways in which the user is assured while still making their platform available to users.
Simplifying these terms and conditions, while still allowing the user multiple options other than to “Take It or Leave It”, as well as being a fast moving service provider at the same time is bound to incredibly tough for the social media company. The good news is, there are some effective ways to do that. However, as the Kennedy-Klobuchar bill rests on the correctness of this approach, its impact is automatically limited.
That said, the Kennedy-Klobuchar bill is an otherwise significant proposal. It looks out for the user by making the data collectors responsible for communicating terms and conditions in a simple manner.
The nerd in me is super excited to do a clause-by-clause breakdown of the bill, but until then, here are some neat summaries of what it talks about: