The European Parliament proposes new measures to prevent addiction to social networks
The European Parliament is proposing new measures to prevent addiction to social networks and did so on 12 December, when it approved a report where it warns of the addictive nature of online games, social networks, streaming services of series, movies or music, streaming services, and online marketplaces, which “exploit the vulnerabilities of users to capture their attention and keep them connected as long as possible with the aim of monetizing their data”, as stated in the aforementioned report.
In other words, because a large part of the population spends many hours of their day immersed in these platforms, they have managed to extract data on users’ behaviour in order to subsequently be able to show them personalized advertising.
To combat these activities, the European Parliament seeks greater protection for consumers through the use of safer recommendation alternatives, even if it means less profitability for these online platforms.
Addiction to social networks: what measures does the European Parliament propose?
The purpose of this report is to urge the European Commission to present a legislative proposal to address the legal loopholes that exist with respect to the addictive design of this type of platforms, i.e., they seek those actions such as unlimited scrolling, automatic startup of games by default and constant real-time notifications, among others, be considered unfair commercial practices.
This type of actions with addictive nature for users is highly attractive and harmful for minors, so one of the measures proposed by the Parliament is to eliminate the “infinite scroll“ used by some platforms and social networks through a design that allows to slide indefinitely the screen to not stop viewing content, which they consider that creates addiction to consumers.
They also propose to eliminate default autoplay, push notifications and constant reading confirmation notifications.
Ethical issues in the new measures
The background to this issue lies, in the opinion of the Parliament, in the lack of transparency about the operation of the interfaces of online services, so they are considering forcing these platforms to develop ethical digital products and services by default, so that they do not have opaque patterns or misleading or addictive designs, nor, ultimately, using manipulation techniques that appeal to the user’s unconscious to make decisions potentially harmful to the protection of their personal data.
However, the Parliament already anticipates that, in order to mitigate this addiction to social networks, the European Commission should propose a “digital right not to be disturbed“.
Also, due to the increase in recent years of this addiction to social networks suffered by users of all ages has been shown to be having a negative impact on the mental and physical health of users, especially among minors and adolescents, as this addictive design of the platforms can interfere with the loss of concentration and cognitive ability, exhaustion, stress, depression and even cause limited physical activity. Therefore, the Parliament also proposes to conduct research on the risks related to addiction and the use of these digital services.
As a measure to solve these new problems, the Parliament proposes to publish a list of good practices for online platforms where measures are listed, as an alternative use of safer recommendation, such as, for example:
- Disable notifications by default.
- Automatic screen locking.
- Use chronological rather than algorithmic recommender systems.
- Emphasize ethical app design, such as enabling grayscale platform to reduce visual incentive.
- Prohibit infinite scrolling and autoplay.
Through this report the European Parliament wants to put on record its intention for the European Union to become the first state to address and legislate on the addictive design of online services, impacting on mental health and the development of future generations.
The Commission is therefore considering the need to update a number of consumer protection laws this year to ensure protection in the digital environment. Consult our team of digital lawyers so that Letslaw can advise you on any related matter.
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