UK Facebook users set to switch to US terms in 2021

Users will have to re-agree to new Terms of Service, which have changed as a result of stringent EU privacy laws.

[[post-object type="divider" /]]

Facebook users in the United Kingdom will need to sign a new Terms of Service agreement at some point in the next six months, removing them from under the company's European unit and instead placing them in the hands of the California branch. The switch means European data laws will no longer apply to account holders, and Instagram and WhatsApp users will also need to agree to the new terms if they want to continue using the services.

[[post-object type="blockquote" author="Facebook UK"]]Like other companies, Facebook has had to make changes to respond to Brexit and will be transferring legal responsibilities and obligations for UK users from Facebook Ireland to Facebook Inc. ... There will be no change to the privacy controls or the services Facebook offers to people in the UK.[[/post-object]]

Facebook's decision reportedly came about as a response to the EU privacy regime – some of the most strictly enforced policies in the world. However, these policies will not cover UK Facebook users after they agree to the new terms.

The switch is one of a number of recent online privacy concerns drawing attention in the UK. End-to-end encryption is facing considerable opposition by the government, reportedly to protect users' privacy from being eroded, and to prevent online content from being inaccessible to law enforcement investigating cases of abuse and other internet-based crimes. The UK and the European Union have also grilled Facebook about how it plans to combat hate speech – instances of which occur, on average, 10 million times per month on the site, as well as Instagram.

Privacy advocates have also criticized the ToS switch, and raised concerns that the UK will eventually adopt a weaker data privacy regime once the country's exit from the EU is complete – particularly as the UK seeks to draw up a trade deal with the U.S. If weaker laws were imposed, internet privacy in the UK will take a heavy hit, users may be required to hand over data to law enforcement more frequently, and surveillance by US intelligence agencies might well become commonplace.

To this end, information industry regulators have reportedly had contact with various companies with headquarters in the EU – including Facebook – as Brexit draws near.

[[post-object type="blockquote" author="Jim Killock - Open Rights Group"]]The bigger the company, the more personal data they hold, the more they are likely to be subject to surveillance duties or requirements to hand over data to the U.S. government.[[/post-object]] 

Killock's concern may well be warranted – and U.S. courts have further concerned privacy advocates. At the moment, non-citizens of the US living overseas do not receive protection against unreasonable searches.

When will the new ToS come into effect?

The new terms of service will take effect at an indeterminate time in the new year, and Facebook users will have the opportunity to agree and continue using the site (along with other social media titans, Instagram and WhatsApp), or decline, and network elsewhere.