By Jan Dhont

EU extends privacy on social networking sites

On June 12, 2009, the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (WP) adopted its Opinion 5/2009 on social networking (Opinion). In the Opinion, the WP specifies data protection requirements applicable to social networking sites.

According to the WP, the EU data protection legislation applies to the activities of providers of social networking services (SNS), even if their headquarters are located outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Although debated, the WP feels that if cookies (or other applications) are placed on a Web site visitor’s computer in an EEA Member State, such visitor’s computer qualifies as automated equipment, which triggers the application of the EU and national data protection legislation of the Member State in question.

For SNS providers to avoid clashes with European regulators, they will need to take a number of measures to ensure compliance with the WP guidelines and recommendations. These are as follows:

  • To reduce the risk of unlawful processing of personal data by third parties, SNS providers should offer privacy-friendly default settings which allow users to freely and specifically consent to any access to their profile’s content that is beyond their self-selected contacts. Restricted access profiles should not be discoverable by internal search engines (i.e. prohibition to provide for searches by parameters such as age and location) and decisions by the user to extend access to his/her profile’s content may not be given implicitly.
  • In relation to information uploaded by users, the WP recommends that SNS (i) provide adequate warnings about the privacy risks involved, and (ii) require users to obtain individuals’ consent to upload pictures or other personal information. To that end, tagging management tools could be introduced, e.g. by making available areas in a personal profile to indicate the presence of a user’s name in tagged images or videos waiting for consent, or by setting expiration times for tags that have not received consent from the tagged individual.
  • Publication of sensitive personal information (relating to race, religion, political views, health, etc.) is subject to the explicit consent from the data subject. In some EU Member States, images are considered to constitute sensitive personal information since they may be used to distinguish between racial/ethnic origins or to deduce religious beliefs or health data. The WP does not consider images on the Internet to constitute sensitive personal information per se, unless they are clearly used to reveal sensitive information about individuals. As facial recognition technologies improve, however, publication of images on the Internet may raise increasing privacy concerns.
  • SNS providers should delete accounts that have been inactive for long periods, and discard users’ personal information after they delete their accounts. Similarly, information deleted by a user when updating his/her account may not be retained.
  • Some SNS providers allow their users to send invitations to third parties. The WP considers that the opt-in restrictions on the use of electronic mail for the purposes of direct marketing do not apply here, provided that the invitation sent by the user is of a personal nature. In order to avoid said restrictions, an SNS provider must comply with the following criteria:

       1. no incentive is given to users to send invitations;
       2. the provider does not select the recipients of the message (i.e. the practice by some SNS providers to send invitations indiscriminately to the entire address book of a user is not allowed);
       3. the identity of the sending user must be clearly mentioned; and
       4. the sending user must know the full content of the message that will be sent on his behalf.

  • Processing of information of non-members, contributed by users of the SNS (e.g. adding a name to a picture, rating a person) is permitted only for legitimate purposes. In practice, the WP considers that the creation of profiles of non-members through the collection and merging of personal information provided by SNS users not to be legitimate.
  • SNS homepages should clearly refer to the existence of a “complaint handling office” set up by the SNS to adequately handle privacy complaints by both members and non-members.
  • Finally, it should be noted that, according to the WP, SNS providers may require their members to provide identifying information without forcing such members to act under their real identity (and to allow the use of a pseudonym).

The full text of the Opinion can be retrieved at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice_ home/fsj/privacy/docs/wpdocs/2009/wp163_en.pdf

Jan Dhont is a partner at Lorenz Brussels. He may be reached at j.dhont@lorenz-law.com.


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

New Web Conferences Added!

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Staff

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Close-up

Looking for tools and info on a hot topic? Our close-up pages organize it for you in one easy-to-find place.

Where's Your DPA?

Our interactive DPA locator helps you find data protection authorities and summary of law by country.

IAPP Westin Research Center

See the latest original research from the IAPP Westin fellows.

Looking for Certification Study Resources?

Find out what you need to prepare for your exams

More Resources »

GDPR Comprehensive: Spots Going Fast

With the top minds in the field leading this exceptional program, it's no wonder it's filling quickly. Register now to secure your spot.

Be Part of Something Big: Join the Summit

Registration is open for the Global Privacy Summit 2016. Discounted early bird rates available for a short time, register today!

Data Protection Intensive Returns to London

Registration is now open for the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive in London. Check out the program!

P.S.R. Call for Speakers Open!

P.S.R. is THE privacy + cloud security event of the year, and you can take a leading role. Propose a session for this year's program.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

Exhibit at an Event

Put your brand in front of the largest gatherings of privacy pros in the world. Learn more.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»