Italy: Tough Times For Social Networks

Last Updated: 11 February 2010
Article by Felix Hofer

1. Italian lawmakers periodically take on the issue of Internet regulation for gaining consensus in the public opinion and come up with proposals for rules, meant to tighten control on on-line content.

Already back in 2007 a group of local MPs had expressed serious concern about a vacuum of legislation, which – so they felt – could be found with respect to improper exposure of minors to harmful web content. At the time a draft bill was therefore presented in the House, meant: (a) to prevent providers from accepting content submitted by users aged less than fourteen, and (b) to make posting of content by adolescents aged between fourteen and seventeen conditional to parental consent. The bill also provided for severe sanctions for non-compliance as well as for co-liability of minors' parents and of providers (who would be ask for blocks of certain websites).

The initiative was heavily opposed both, by free speech advocacy groups and by the Italian Association of Internet Providers. The possibility of putting in place technical measures apt to achieve the indicated aims was also questioned.

2. Recently (in January 2009) an additional aspect of the problem was addressed by the Italian Information Commissioner (Autorità Garante per la protezione dei dati personali). In a key note speech delivered in Rome during the 2009 European Data Protection Day the Commissioner high lightened the need of achieving a balanced coexistence on virtual platforms between individuals' expectation to freedom of expression and their right to privacy. He therefore specifically acknowledged the general interest of maintaining the Web 'open and freely accessible', but also called for increased sensitiveness towards additional rights of individual Net citizens and felt that efficient protection of 'on-line rights' would necessarily imply adequate user consciousness about the many and serious risks present on the Internet. In detail the Commissioner to the purpose called for:

  • adequate educational initiatives aimed at rising the level of awareness about potential misuses of personal data made available on the Internet,
  • efficient means of self-regulation, favouring Web users' 'responsible behaviour' and 'accurate selection' with respect to personal (in particular, sensitive) data uploaded to the on-line platforms,
  • increased involvement of Providers, who were invited to focus on more intensive user information/education and on offering technical means allowing to prevent unconditional access to data by search engines or to restrict – at least partially – profiles' visibility.

A few weeks later (in April 2009) the Commissioner delved specifically into the privacy risks frequently faced by visitors of social networks and issued a set of guidelines addressing 'sharing forums' and 'virtual marketplaces' such as Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn, Friendster, etc.

While the guidelines pay tribute to the patent advantages offered by such networks, users are also strongly invited not to underestimate the significant risks visitors face when accessing these platforms.

The guidelines therefore recommend to deserve proper attention to the fact that:

  • personal data posted to social networks are no longer under individual's control and may stay and resist on-line forever,
  • a number of such networks allow only profile 'deactivation', but do not provide for a cancellation function,
  • these platforms frequently make use of servers difficult to locate and sometimes placed in countries where law enforcement could result problematic,

additionally suggest to:

  • carefully select information and data posted to such networks,
  • perform an in-advance check of the networks' privacy policies and terms of use,
  • always take care of selecting appropriate privacy settings,
  • respect others' IP rights and expectations to privacy and therefore to restrain from posting third parties' content or images without specific consent,
  • consider the business purposes of these networks and the respective monitoring and profiling practices,
  • be aware of potential fake profiles as well as of the risks of identity theft, financial scams, and computer crime and minors' abuse, disclosure of sensitive or secret information, potential harm to professional reputation
  • remind that individuals' on-line activities are nowadays also carefully monitored by recruiters as well as by (current and former) employers.

3. The privacy risks involved by social networking have also been assessed (and addressed) by the Article 29 Working party1 in June 20092.

In its Opinion the Working party:

  • offers indications about how and to which extent social networks are affected by the key principles laid down in the Data Protection Directives3 (with a focus also on 'territoriality' issues),
  • provides a set of specific requirements and obligations, which social networks are held to comply with (such as: indications about providers' identity, information about purposes and ways of data uses, warnings about privacy risks related to data posting, availability of privacy-friendly default settings, copyright and minors' protection, respect of other data subjects' rights, handling of abandoned accounts),
  • establishes users' rights, equal to those generally granted by the Data Protection Directives (inclusive an easy-to-use complaint handling procedure and user's possibility of adopting pseudonyms).

4. But the sky appears to cloud over for social networks. Italian lawmakers apparently had a plan to serve an additional blow to the on-line world (and specifically to social networks). In a recent draft bill of a Legislative Decree – ostensibly meant to implement the principles of the so-called Audio-Visual Media Services Directive4 – some truly curious and worrying aspects may be found: (a) uploading to (and diffusing on) the Internet of 'animated images' (whether accompanied by sound or not)5 would basically be considered equal to content aired via TV, (b) such activity would therefore become subject to governmental authorization, (iii) all individuals potentially defamed by content posted onto the web would have to be offered a 'right of replying', and (iv) transmission/reproduction of copyrighted material would not be allowed and lead to sanctions.

When notice about such upcoming provisions spread around, huge protest broke out within the Internet community and spicy comments on 'web censorship' were posted. Confronted with such strong opposition the promoters of the bill have very recently stated6 that they did not pursue any monitoring or filtering intent with respect to websites nor seek to introduce restrictions for newsletters, blog posts or amateurish videos, which therefore are to be considered as not included in the definition of 'audiovisual services', diffused through the Internet. An amended text will therefore be proposed when the House is going to vote on the draft bill.

Nevertheless this seems to be just a momentary break in the efforts to put reins onto social networks.


1. An the independent EU Advisory Body (set up by Directive 95/46/EC) for providing expert opinion from member state level to the EU Commission on questions of data protection, promoting harmonized application of the general principles of the Directives in all Member States through co-operation between data protection supervisory authorities, advising the EU Commission on any Community measures affecting the rights and freedoms of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and privacy.

2. Through Opinion 5/2009 – WP 163 - on on-line social networking, adopted on 12 June 2009.

3. i. e. Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data and Directive 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications).

4. i. e. Directive 2007/65/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 amending Council Directive 89/552/EEC on the coordination of certain provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action in Member States concerning the pursuit of television broadcasting activities.

5. Basically any video posted on YouTube or similar platforms.

6. During the draft bill's discussion in Commission no. 8 of the Italian Senate (hearing no. 159 held on February 4th, 2010).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Felix Hofer
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions