EU: Twitter, Facebook still in violation of the bloc's consumer law

The social media giants have been rapped for allegedly deleting content and changing their terms of use without informing users. Brussels has also piled pressure on tech companies over fake news and illegal hate speech.

Facebook and Twitter were accused on Thursday of failing to fully abide by European Union consumer rules, despite repeated pressure by Brussels.

A European Commission report said the two social media giants were still deleting content uploaded by users without informing them. Twitter, meanwhile, was singled out for changing its terms of use without telling users.

Brussels said that while Google+ had complied with all the required changes, Facebook and Twitter still needed to do more to give consumers more clarity about deleted content and accounts.

Read more: EU internet policing proposals spark free speech concerns

Technology | 28.09.2016

Updating its demands, the Commission reminded the two tech firms that they had been informed in November 2016 that their consumer protection rules didn't meet EU standards.

Brussels then followed up with a meeting in March last year, and while Google Plus had made the required changes, Twitter and Facebook are still resisting, the Commission said.

Dragging heels

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said it was "unacceptable" that the companies are dragging their heels and called for Brussels to have a stronger role in overseeing consumer protection.

"EU consumer rules should be respected and if companies don't comply, they should face sanctions," she said.

The European Union's executive cannot impose sanctions because the bloc's 28 member states are individually responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection rules.

Read more: EU data privacy rules fail to protect consumers' privacy

Despite the latest criticism, the Commission confirmed that the two companies, along with Google Plus, had met other requirements of EU consumer law, namely giving European users the right to take them to court in their home countries, rather than the US and the right to withdraw from an online purchase. The tech firms had also put measures in place to identify all advertising and sponsored content as such, among other things, the EU report said.

As well as flouting consumer protection laws, The social media giants have also faced months of intense pressure from Brussels, among other regulators, over the quick removal of hate speech and fake news.

But last month, the Commission praised tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for their efforts, saying that 70 percent of notified illegal hate speech had been removed, up from less than a third in 2016.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Free speech or illegal content?

Whether hate speech, propaganda or activism, governments across the globe have upped efforts to curb content deemed illegal from circulating on social networks. From drawn-out court cases to blanket bans, DW examines how some countries try to stop the circulation of illicit content while others attempt to regulate social media.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Social media law

After a public debate in Germany, a new law on social media came into effect in October. The legislation imposes heavy fines on social media companies, such as Facebook, for failing to take down posts containing hate speech. Facebook and other social media companies have complained about the law, saying that harsh rules might lead to unnecessary censorship.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Right to be forgotten

In 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that European citizens had the right to request search engines, such as Google and Bing, remove "inaccurate, inadequate, irrelevant or excessive" search results linked to their name. Although Google has complied with the ruling, it has done so reluctantly, warning that it could make the internet as "free as the world's least free place."

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Blanket ban

In May 2017, Ukraine imposed sanctions on Russian social media platforms and web services. The blanket ban affected millions of Ukrainian citizens, many of whom were anxious about their data. The move prompted young Ukrainians to protest on the streets, calling for the government to reinstate access to platforms that included VKontakte (VK), Russia's largest social network.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Safe Harbor

In 2015, the European Court of Justice ruled that Safe Harbor, a 15-year-old pact between the US and EU that allowed the transfer of personal data without prior approval, was effectively invalid. Austrian law student Max Schrems launched the legal proceedings against Facebook in response to revelations made by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, Edward Snowden.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Regulation

In China, the use of social media is highly regulated by the government. Beijing has effectively blocked access to thousands of websites and platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. Instead, China offers its citizens access to local social media platforms, such as Weibo and WeChat, which boast hundreds of millions of monthly users.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Twitter bans Russia-linked accounts

Many politicians and media outlets blame Russia's influence for Donald Trump's election victory in 2016. Moscow reportedly used Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Instagram to shape public opinion on key issues. In October 2017, Twitter suspended over 2,750 accounts due to alleged Russian propaganda. The platform also banned ads from RT (formerly Russia Today) and the Sputnik news agency.

Fighting for the internet: Social media, governments and tech companies

Facebook announces propaganda-linked tool

With social media under pressure for allowing alleged Russian meddling, Facebook announced a new project to combat such efforts in November 2017. The upcoming page will give users a chance to check if they "liked" or followed an alleged propaganda account on Facebook or Instagram. Meanwhile, Facebook has come under fire for not protecting user data in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

mm/uhe (AFP, dpa, Reuters)