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”

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
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). 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 & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd 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 or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

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