Facebook can video you without your knowledge, MPs warn

MPs criticise 'legalese' terms and conditions and say social media companies should reform how they collect and use data

Reflection of the Facebook logo
(Image credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Facebook can remotely access mobile phone cameras to take pictures or record video without alerting users, MPs have said, as they criticised the terms and conditions imposed upon social networkers.

MPs said social media companies should cut "unreasonable" demands and make their legal agreements easier to understand. The committee said trying to read most companies' terms and conditions was like "engaging with Shakespeare".

The science and technology select committee called for guidelines to be drawn up to ensure users understand how their data is being used, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

"Let's face it, most people click yes to terms and conditions contracts without reading them," Andrew Miller, the committee chairman, said. "They are often laughably long and written in the kind of legalese you need a law degree from the USA to understand."

He also said that companies should no longer seek permission to collect information they don't need.

The committee pointed to the terms of the Facebook messenger app, used by more than 200,000 people in the UK, which allows it to activate mobile phone cameras to take pictures and videos without alerting users.

And it emerged yesterday that the mobile Twitter app scans users' phones to discover what other apps are installed and uses that information to determine which advertising to display.

The committee also criticised Facebook's experiment last year in emotional manipulation, where the company showed different results in its news feed to different users to see if it affected their mood, the BBC reports.

The incident "highlighted 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," Miller said.

Facebook did not directly respond to the committee's comments, but the company recently introduced new terms and conditions which it says are easier to understand. It said it had "listened to people who have asked us to better explain how we get and use information".

Twitter also clarified its use of data in a recent blog post, explaining that it collects information on the apps people have on their phones so as to "deliver tailored content that [users] might be interested in".

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.