Fall of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp: are you entitled to compensation for your service failures?

Fall of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp: are you entitled to compensation for your service failures?

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What do you do if you buy a shirt and you realize it’s stained ?, or if the supermarket sell you some oranges in poor condition, or if you buy a plane ticket and cancel your flight and it’s the airline’s fault ?

You will demand that they give you another shirt, other oranges and embark you on another flight.

So, why when Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp fail, we usually do not claim?

On Wednesday, the world’s largest social network, with nearly 2.3 billion users, suffered the worst service failure in its history.

Instagram and WhatsApp, which belong to Facebook, also had problems.

In a period of at least 14 hours, users in different countries had difficulty sending messages, sharing content or posting comments.

That is, the service worked in a defective manner and did not comply with what it offers users.

Only on Thursday the platform announced that they had solved the problems and that their systems were recovering.

Is it possible to demand compensation for those hours in which we could not use platforms where we trust a large part of our communications?

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Image caption Today it is difficult to imagine a life without social networks.

The conditions of Facebook

The answer to that question depends on several factors such as the legislation of each country or the type of claim, but there are some general concepts that give us clues about how successful a claim of this kind could be.

The most important thing is to understand that if you have an account on Facebook it is because you accepted the conditions stipulated by the network, although it clarifies that you can receive legal claims from your users.

“Facebook has some terms and conditions, you take them or leave them, ” Colombian lawyer Heidy Balanta, a specialist in computer law.

Although Balanta also warns that it is not something that is “written on stone” , because if a judge considers those terms illegal or abusive, he could provide something else.

Surely you did not read it, but when you created your account, you accepted a Facebook clause that says: “Our products are provided as they are and we can not guarantee that they will always be safe, they will never have errors or they will work without interruptions, delays or imperfections” .

They also say that “under no circumstances” will they be responsible for the loss of income, information or other types of damages.

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Image caption Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp had failures for at least 14 hours.

That, in principle, means that the platform does not have to answer for failures like those of Wednesday, and therefore you will not get anything by demanding compensation.

“In the United States, I think it’s very likely that a court will enforce this term,” Jim Speta, an expert in Internet law and regulation at Northwestern University, told BBC Mundo. “That is to say, it would impose the limitation of Facebook’s responsibility”.

In Latin America, the situation would have a similar outcome , according to Balanta.

“Our legislation and our judges have almost no effectiveness against these internet giants,” says the lawyer.

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Image caption Have you ever thought about complaining to Facebook about its service failures?

According to Balanta, in cases in which a company or a business pays money to Facebook for advertising or services such as Workplace, Facebook’s platform to work as a team, perhaps it would have more options to ask for compensation, but it would have to show what type of damage was caused by failures of the social network.

“In the case of a natural person, I see that more complex, ” he says.

Juan Carlos Lara, lawyer of the Chilean organization Derechos Digitales, thinks in the same way.

According to him, the user would have to show that he had a loss of valuable information or something important in his personal or professional life due to the failures.

” I do not rule it out , but it would be very difficult to think of something like that,” Lara told BBC Mundo.

That is, the inability to communicate with a family member on WhatsApp, not being able to post a meme on Facebook or not being able to receive messages from customers who buy products through Instagram, would not be enough arguments to win compensation.

The price of Facebook

But why would an ordinary user who does not pay anything to Facebook believe they have the right to complain when the platform does not work well?

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Image caption Facebook has about 2.300 million users.

Someone could say that even if we do not pay with money, the platform profits from the data we give each time we use it.

Although in a certain way that may be true, according to the experts, it is not enough to claim compensation the way we would if we got intoxicated with restaurant food.

“As there was no disbursement of money, in principle there is no right to compensation,” says Lara.

Balanta agrees, explaining that Facebook’s business model is not based on people paying to obtain benefits or choosing how they want their data to be handled.

Another thing is when Facebook is accused of using the information of users in a different way than expected to use it, as in the case of Cambridge Analytica.

The future

According to that scenario there is not much to do, but it may not always be like that.

Lara explains that although she sees it as very difficult, now there is a certain impulse for companies like Facebook to start giving back to their users due to system failures.

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Image caption “We have to look for different ways to communicate with those who matter to us”.

This idea is based on the fact that the business of these companies is based on the use of user information.

“We have not reached the point of seeing this compensation today,” says Lara. “But it is understandable that there is pressure in that sense,” he adds.

“Maybe we can not put a price on it as a plate of food, but we do deserve compensation for the massive use of these data.”

For the lawyer, it is normal for companies to be released from the responsibility of what happens with their services, but in this case it is a company with a large number of users and with a significant influence on public life.

“That makes the rules in which we think the responsibility of the private company change,” says Lara.

For now, beyond legal discussions , for Lara the failures on Wednesday leave a broader lesson.

“We can not leave all our lives in charge of a single provider that is far from us, on servers that probably do not even know where they are,” he says.

“We have to find different ways to communicate with those who matter to us.”

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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