Facebook has just 60 days to change its terms and conditions for French users

France's consumer protection agency says the social network's terms of use are unfair and illegal under French law.

Facebook has just 60 days to change its terms and conditions for French users, or face legal sanctions.

France's Directorate-General for Competition, Consumers and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) has audited the social network's terms of use and concluded that they contain unfair contract terms illegal under French law.

With its 60-day deadline, the DGCCRF jumps to the head of the line for Facebook's lawyers' attention: On Monday night the French National Commission on Computing and Liberty (CNIL) gave the company 90 days to stop some transfers of its users' personal information to the U.S., and to change the way it handles the data of visitors its website.

The DGCCRF defines contract terms as unfair when they create a significant imbalance, to the detriment of the consumer, in the rights and obligations of the parties to a contract.

The directorate examined the terms of use set by Facebook Ireland and Facebook Payments International, the two companies responsible for Facebook users outside North America.

Among the contract conditions it found detrimental to Facebook users were clauses giving the company the right to remove content published by users on the social network, or to unilaterally change the terms of use without prior notice or by assuming consent. The Facebook Payments contract came in for similar criticism, with the directorate highlighting as unfair clauses giving the company the right, without advance notice, to unilaterally modify its terms of use or to unilaterally modify or terminate its payment service.

After giving Facebook the opportunity to respond to the charges, the DGCCRF has ordered Facebook Ireland and Facebook Payments International to either delete or modify the unfair clauses in its contracts with consumers within 60 days. Facebook can appeal the ruling.

Those using a Facebook account for professional purposes (such as a plumber with a Facebook page promoting their business) aren't affected, as under French law business users are considered to be better informed about unfair contract terms.

It's almost two years since French consumers' assocation UFC-Que Choisir filed suit in a Paris court, asking it to strike out unfair contract terms it said were used not only by Facebook but also by Google and Twitter.  

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Peter Sayer

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