When I sign up for social networking sites such as Facebook will my personal information be able to be viewed by other organisations?

Facebook and use of social networking sites

Over the last five years the use of social networking sites has increased at a huge level worldwide with the UK being no exception. Virtually everyone over a certain age will have registered with a site such as Facebook, twitter or bebo.

The requirement to provide personal data

If we take the example of Facebook as a social networking site when an individual signs up to become a member they are required to provide some minimum personal information about themselves. At the most basic level an individual will have to provide their name in order to be a member of the site – but this does not necessarily have to be their full name from their birth certificate.

Individuals are then encouraged to provide much more personal information to be displayed on their profile page, however, this is not a prerequisite to joining the site meaning individuals are not forced into providing this information.

Advertising on social networking sites

The main way in which social networking sites generate income is by advertising on the site and providing other companies with the opportunity of developing different applications for the site.

Do companies which advertise on the site get access to my personal information?

Facebook has recently been criticised by consumer groups and lawmakers in both the European Union and the United States due to adding the ability for partner websites to incorporate data from members of the social networking site.

However, Facebook has hit back stating that they do not give advertisers access to members’ personal information.

If this were to be the case would Facebook be infringing the Data Protection Act 1998?

If Facebook was to be found to be providing access to members’ information for partner websites without the consent of the individual members this is likely to be seen as a clear breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

What is the situation whereby other users of the site I have not permitted to see my information can get access to it?

Facebook continually tries to achieve a balance between the privacy of the members on the site and the promotion of social networking through the site. As a consequence of this other members of the site are able to access certain parts of an individual’s profile page such as your name, profile picture and which networks you are a member of.

Many individuals think that this information should only be made available to people they are friends with whereas the site believes it is necessary to promote social networking.

Would an individual be able to make a claim against Facebook under the Data Protection Act for the use of their information in this way?

It would be extremely difficult for an individual to argue that other members of a social networking site being able to see this personal data was in contravention to the rights guaranteed by the Data Protection Act 1998 as the individual would be aware of this when signing up to the site and providing the personal information in the first place.