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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: June 2019

Chapter 3 - Online Social Networks




836. THE RISE OF OSNS – One of the most significant developments in the online environment over the past decade has been the rise of social media. More and more individuals are making use of online social networks (OSNs) to stay in touch with family and friends, to engage in professional networking or to connect around shared interests and ideas. But users are not the only ones who are interested in OSNs. OSNs have come to attract a wide range of actors, which include application developers, web trackers, third-party websites, data brokers and other observers.

837. OUTLINE – The objective of this chapter is to analyse how EU data protection law applies in the context of OSNs. To this end, it will begin by describing the various actors engaging with OSNs and the interactions between them. Next, it will analyse the legal status (“role”) of each actor, as interpreted by courts, regulators and scholars. After that, it will describe the main responsibilities assigned to each actor. Once this analysis has been completed, this chapter will critically evaluate the relationship between the current framing of roles and responsibilities in the context of online social networking.


838. OVERVIEW – The following eight actors may be considered as being particularly relevant to online social networks from a data protection and privacy perspective:

  • OSN users;
  • OSN providers;
  • Page administrators;
  • (Third-party) Application providers;
  • (Third-party) Trackers;
  • (Third-party) Data brokers;
  • (Third-party) Website operators;
  • Other observers; and
  • Infrastructure service providers.
  • 839. VISUAL REPRESENTATION – The aforementioned actors interact with each other in a variety of ways. The following figure provides a – highly simplified – representation of how these actors typically interact with OSNs and OSN-related data. It is intended to be conceptual rather than factual.

    840. LEGEND – The arrows in Figure 4 indicate that an exchange of personal data is taking place. This exchange can be either uni- or bi-directional. Solid black arrows signify exchanges of personal data which occur primarily “in the foreground”, meaning that they can easily be observed or inferred by OSN users. They often imply some form of active involvement by OSN users (e.g. granting a permission, manually entering data, use of an application).