Social networking sites won people's hearts with their ability to connect people, facilitate sharing of information and community building. They breached users' trust with much the same ease by slyly leaking information. Even today, these sites are doing little to safeguard the interests of users, who are actually their raison detre.
In its 'Transparency' report, Facebook shared the number of requests made by the government for user data, and also how it is working to take down content that is objectionable, has violence and nudity, and is inauthentic as per its community guidelines to create a "safe and welcoming community for the more than two billion people". That is all very well. But conspicuously absent from the report are matters that affect users the most.
"The report doesn't share information on what kind of data is being collected, how it is being shared by third parties, how Facebook is limiting the collection of data and addressing the issue of fake news," says R.P. Singh, Chairperson of Content Marketing Summit Asia. Given the global attention these issues have generated, experts say, Facebook could have done much more. Giving the number of fake accounts deleted is not enough. "They are playing on the addiction of users and marketers who have invested a lot of money and effort in building their brands on the platform," Singh adds.
Prashant Mishra, Professor of Marketing at Institute of Management, Calcutta, puts this in perspective with an analogy of home purchase agreements that are always in favour of the service provider. Social media platforms, too, have terms and conditions that are complex, cumbersome and invasive. They also indemnify the company against any third party liability. Besides, in social media, the contract is between the platform and a million users who are helpless in matters of how their data is being used or processed. Mishra says that since these services are free, users cannot make much noise about it; especially after having agreed to the terms and conditions when signing up.
But, does free service give social media sites the freedom to misuse user data? Of course not. "Agreements should be simple and should envisage the usage of data and methods, and means of data use. But a business will see its cost benefit first, because that is its priority. Moral rhetoric should be seen from the perspective of value construct. If they have to be implemented, laws that can protect both the user as well as business interest should be enforced," Mishra adds.
European Union's General Data Protection Regulation makes it mandatory for companies to be more transparent about data collection and processing. It empowers users to take control of the data they share with organisations through meaningful consent in a way that the cost of compliance falls with the organisations that hold and process information.
What measures India takes to protect its social media users remains to be seen.