New book analyzes whether terms of use on online platforms respect human rights

The book answers the question and presents data about the subject, collected in a survey about contracts on 50 platforms, carried out with the support of the Council of Europe and the FGV´s Rio de Janeiro Law School.
Law
03 January 2020
New book analyzes whether terms of use on online platforms respect human rights

Do “terms of use” – standardized contracts that regulate behavior on the internet that all of us sign when we join social networks, shop online and do many other things – respect human rights? This is the question asked in the new book “Terms of Use and Human Rights,” which has just been launched. The book, written by Luca Belli, Nicolo Zingales, Jamila Venturini, Luiza Louzada, Marilia Maciel and Konstantinos Stylianou, and published by Editora Revan and the FGV´s Rio de Janeiro Law School, answers the question and presents data about the subject, collected in a survey about contracts on 50 platforms, carried out with the support of the Council of Europe and the FGV´s Rio de Janeiro Law School.

Online platforms have become increasingly crucial to people’s everyday lives around the world. From social networks to “sharing economy” platforms, they are transforming the way people interact with one another, and they have a direct impact on the exercise of fundamental rights such as the freedom to search for, share and receive information and ideas, as well as our right to privacy. In order for data traffic between senders and recipients to occur, however, there needs to be a series of private agents in the infrastructure, logic and content layers that make up the web. The relationship between internet users and intermediaries is determined through “terms of use” – standardized contracts that are unilaterally defined. They are generally long, dense contracts, written in language that is hard for people without a legal background to understand.

In the online world, this situation seems to be getting worse. Every day, we click to accept statements such as “I have read and I accept the Terms of Use,” but few users have the time and legal and technical skills to do so. Despite agreeing to these terms of use, users are generally unaware of the rules that govern their behavior and define their relationship with the intermediaries that regulate cyberspace. These contracts affect users’ ability to exercise their rights in an opaque way and undermine the possibility of providing informed consent and comparing the level of protection offered by competing services.

This book explores some of these problems and presents the results of the “Terms of Use and Human Rights” project, carried out by the FGV´s Rio de Janeiro Law School’s Center for Technology and Society in partnership with the Council of Europe. The project analyzed the contracts of 50 online platforms, verifying how they deal with the rights to freedom of expression, privacy and fair trials. The initiative is intended to encourage companies to develop policies aligned with international human rights. At the same time, the book seeks to pave the way for future research to help users make informed decisions about joining certain platforms. First and foremost, this is an effort to shed light on the regulatory role of internet intermediaries and their social responsibility to respect human rights.

For more information about the book, click here.