The EU commissioner in charge of consumer protection, Věra Jourová, said she had run out of patience with the social network after nearly two years of discussions aimed at giving Facebook’s European users more information about how their data is used.
“I will not hide the fact that I am becoming rather impatient because we have been in dialogue with Facebook almost two years,” Jourová told reporters. “Progress is not enough for me, I want to see results.”
Facebook has been given until the end of the year to change its terms of service. “Facebook will face sanctions from national authorities,” she said. “They will look into sanctions after the new year in case they do not see sufficient progress.”
Penalties for breaching consumer law differ across the EU’s 28 member states and the commissioner did not specify any financial penalty.
The commission began investigating social media companies’ compliance with EU consumer rules after complaints from French authorities following a spate of fraud cases.
Google, Facebook, Airbnb and Twitter were asked to make changes to their terms and conditions to meet EU consumer standards. As a result, European consumers can pursue legal action in national courts, rather than in the US, if they allege they are a victim of fraud or believe the company has breached their consumer rights.
The companies were also asked to clearly identify sponsored content and provide people with clear information about how their data was used. They have largely fallen into line, although Twitter still has some changes to make.
EU authorities welcomed a deal they had reached with Airbnb after the website agreed to improve its pricing presentation so consumers are not caught out by extra charges such as cleaning fees. Airbnb agreed to make the changes across all versions of its website in the EU by the end of the year.
The commission acknowledged that Facebook had made some changes but said its terms and conditions remained problematic because Facebook “tells consumers that their data and content is used only to improve their overall ‘experience’ and does not mention that the company uses these data for commercial purposes”.
Facebook said an update to its terms of service in May included “the vast majority” of changes regulators wanted. “Our terms are now much clearer on what is and what isn’t allowed on Facebook and on the options people have,” the company said. It added it would continue “close cooperation” with regulators “to understand any further concerns and make appropriate updates”.