Privacy and Personal Information Protection by Social Media Companies in an AI era


  • Murdoch Watney University of Johannesburg



Social media, Social media privacy and personal data protection, Data protection legislation, Legal consequences of social media companies’ misconduct in respect of privacy and personal data protection, Impact of AI on social media privacy and personal information protection


Social media platforms have become vast and powerful tools for connecting, communicating, sharing content, conducting business, and disseminating news and information. The history and evolution of social media illustrates not only the digital society’s ever-growing dependence on social media, but also the downside to this reliance, namely the challenges of protecting a social media user’s privacy and personal information. As technological advancement such as artificial intelligence (AI) grow and impacts on the way data, not only personal but also product and service data, is collected, the spotlight is increasingly focusing on the difficulties in privacy and data protection in an AI-era. The discussion focusses on the misconduct by social media companies in respect of privacy and personal information and the lessons learnt from the way in which social media companies have dealt with social media users’ information. Since self-regulation by a social media company does not provide adequate safeguards that privacy and personal information will be protected, limitations to the collection, use, access, and storage of personal information must be imposed by means of legislation. To ensure compliance, non-compliance must be linked to a penalty and enforced by a government. Privacy and data protection regulations were formulated in a pre-AI era, and at that stage, the implications of the rapid evolution of AI on privacy and data protection were not foreseen. To ensure digital trust in an AI era, the legal consequences of misconduct of social media companies must be explored. Social media users must have control of their own data and social media companies must be clear about the kind of data a company will collect on its users, and for what purposes. The lessons learnt from past misconduct is also indicative of whether personal data protection legislation is flexible enough to provide for AI or whether specific legislation must be implemented as society enters the AI era. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution takes shape and AI gains prominence, the data legal landscape is evolving with compliance and enforcement being key to protecting privacy and data, addressing legal uncertainty, and ensuring trust.