F0: Terms of service & human rights

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Session description

This session provides a forum for discussion and brainstorming on the role of Terms of Service (ToS), including Privacy Policies, as a focus for regulatory and self-regulatory action for the protection and promotion of human rights.

Meeting's agenda

  • The session will kick off with a brief introduction to the work done by the Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility, as a reference in the backdrop of this meeting.
  • Former UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression Frank La Rue (currently Assistant DG for Communication and Information at UNESCO) will give a short keynote on the role of intermediaries and ToS in the digital environment.
  • The case currently pending between the Belgian Data Protection Authority and Facebook will be discussed, with a focus on the Report commissioned by the DPA on Facebook's ToS and Practices
  • Two short presentations will address some of the challenges in using ToS to measure human rights compliance, with reference to the "Terms of Service and Human Rights" project and the "Ranking Digital Rights" project.
  • The discussion will be opened for a brainstorming on ways to promote more human-rights respecting Terms of Service.

Background on the Facebook case

Facebook rolled out its new policies and terms on January 30th, 2015. In the text, Facebook authorizes itself to (1) track its users across websites and devices; (2) use profile pictures for both commercial and non-commercial purposes and (3) collect information about its users’ whereabouts on a continuous basis. Facebook announced the changes more than a month in advance, but the choice for its +1 billion users remained the same: agree or leave Facebook.

To be clear: the changes introduced in 2015 weren’t all that drastic. Most of Facebook’s “new” policies and terms are simply old practices made more explicit. Our analysis indicates, however, that Facebook is acting in violation of European law. First, Facebook places too much burden on its users. Users are expected to navigate Facebook’s complex web of settings (which include "Privacy", "Apps", "Ads", "Followers", etc.) in search of possible opt-outs. Facebook’s default settings related to behavioural profiling or Social Ads, for example, are particularly problematic. Moreover, users are offered no choice whatsoever with regard to their appearance in "Sponsored Stories" or the sharing of location data. Second, users do not receive adequate information. For instance, it isn’t always clear what is meant by the use of images "for advertising purposes". Will profile pictures only be used for “Sponsored Stories” and "Social Adverts", or will it go beyond that? Who are the "third party companies", “service providers” and “other partners” mentioned in Facebook’s data use policy? What are the precise implications of Facebooks’ extensive data gathering through third-party websites, mobile applications, as well recently acquired companies such as WhatsApp and Instagram?


platform responsibility; terms of service; human rights; private ordering ; accountability


This session is divided in two parts: the first 45 mins will consist of a series of planned interventions, followed by a series of questions. The second part is highly interactive. Participants will engage in an open discussion departing from the context given by the moderators and the 4 "fire starters" (provocateurs). This discussion will open at 12:15 and can last up to 13:00, depending on audience participation.

Further reading



  • Mr. Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO, France
  • Mr. Brendan Van Alsenoy, PhD researcher- Center for IP and IT Law- KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Ms. Marilia Maciel, Researcher and Coordinator, Center for Technology and Society, Fundação Getulio Vargas
  • Mr. Allon Bar, Policy and Engagement Manager, Ranking Digital Rights project


  • Mr. Nicolo Zingales, Tilburg University and IGF Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility, Netherlands
  • Mr. Luca Belli, Fundação Getulio Vargas and IGF Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility, Brazil

Session twitter hashtag

Hashtag: #eurodig16 #ToSHR