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Social networking sites (also social network sites) are

websites that connect people. In these online communities, people can join (for free) and at a minimum, establish a page with their profile.

The most popular, MySpace and Facebook, also have groups, which are feature-rich chat boards for members. A popular professional social networking site, LinkedIn, offers sections for jobs, service provider recommendations, and questions. All allow users to find people they know among the members, or look for other members with similar interests or affiliations. These sites make it easy to establish networks of contacts. Other Web 2.0 technologies, such as Wiki products (e.g., WikiMedia) and photo-sharing sites (e.g., Flickr), also have social networking aspects to them.[1]

virtual communities where people convene to chat, instant message (IM), post pictures, share stories, etc.[2]
web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.[3]


The defining characteristics of an SNS are:

  • Tools for personalised, socially-focused interactions, based around the profile (e.g. recommendations, discussion, blogging, organization of offline social events, reports of events)
  • Tools for defining social relationships which determine who has access to data available on SNSs and who can communicate with whom and how.[4]

Some of these sites restrict the number of profiles users can access and aim to connect people based on their "real world" communities. Many of these sites are free to users, instead relying on advertising revenues for financial support.

SNS generate much of their revenue through advertising which is served alongside the web pages set up and accessed by users. Users who post large amounts of information about their interests on their profiles offer a refined market to advertisers wishing to serve targeted advertisements based on that information.[5]

Social networking sites may be the ultimate expression of user-generated content. Sites like Facebook are among the fastest growing communities in the digital world; they allow users to create personal profiles or webpages and link them to the profiles of others to create a network of "friends" and friends of friends.[6]

SNSs provide many benefits to their members:
  • A sense of connectedness and intimacy (which is a healthy social enhancement), most often to an existing offline community but also to new online-only communities. There is evidence that there is considerable social capital associated with the use of Facebook by U.S. college students, which suggests that SNS use might contribute to increased self-esteem and satisfaction with life for some students.
  • Tools which allow like-minded individuals to discover and interact with each other
  • Identity-management and access-control tools for user-created content, allowing users to have control over who views their data (which is not generally permitted by blogs, for example)
  • A forum for new modes of online collaboration, education, experience-sharing and trust-formation, such as the collection and exchange of reputation for businesses and individuals.[7]

Consumers of all ages are using social networking sites, although research suggests that there are two main clusters of users — one younger and one older — and that these groups have different objectives. Younger users are more likely to use the sites as an extension of their existing offline relationships, and older users, "deeply invested in strangers," are using the sites to make friends, network professionally, and find dates. Teenagers are reputedly among the most enthusiastic users: nine of the ten most popular sites among 12-to-17 year-olds were social networking sites or sites that provided related tools or content.[8]

Privacy Concerns[]

United States[]

There are privacy concerns associated with social networking sites and other user-generated content, particularly when minors' information is at stake. When using social networking sites, minors may share a wide variety of information with others, including their names, addresses, telephone numbers, or email addresses. The extent to which this information is accessible to others depends on the limits the site places on the community that can view a user profile, and on restrictions incorporated into the site, some of which are self-activated.[9] Among teens who created such a profile, 85% of them created a profile on MySpace, making it far-and-away the most popular social networking site for teens.[10] Some social networking sites allow unrestricted access to user information, which may allow criminals to locate users, including minors, offline or to commit identity theft.[11]

If a social networking site is directed at children under 13, or if the site operator has actual knowledge that it is collecting information from children under 13 on the site, the website operator must comply with COPPA and the FTC's COPPA Rule. Most significantly, the website operator is required to obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children.[12]

European Union[]

SNS providers are data controllers under the Data Protection Directive. They provide the means for the processing of user data and provide all the “basic” services related to user management (e.g. registration and deletion of accounts). SNS providers also determine the use that may be made of user data for advertising and marketing purposes — including advertising provided by third parties.

Application providers may also be data controllers, if they develop applications which run in addition to the ones from the SNS and users decide to use such an application.

In most cases, users are considered to be data subjects. The Directive does not impose the duties of a data controller on an individual who processes personal data "in the course of a purely personal or household activity" — the so-called "household exemption." In some instances, the activities of a user of an SNS may not be covered by the household exemption and the user might be considered to have taken on some of the responsibilities of a data controller.[13]


  1. HowTo.Gov, Social Networks and Government (full-text).
  2. Protection of Children Online: Federal and State Laws Addressing Cyberstalking, Cyberharassment, and Cyberbullying, at CRS-1.
  3. danah m. boyd & Nicole. B. Ellison, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, J. of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11 (2007) (full-text).
  4. European Network and Information Security Agency, Security Issues and Recommendations for Online Social Networks 6 (Nov. 14, 2007) (full-text).
  5. EU, Article 29 Working Party on Data Protection, Opinion 5/2009 on Online Social Networking 5 (June 12, 2009) (full-text).
  6. According to an October 2007 report from independent market analyst Datamonitor, membership in social networking sites will reach 230 million worldwide by the end of 2007. See Datamonitor, The Future of Social Networking: Understanding Market Strategic and Technological Developments (Oct. 2007) (full-text).
  7. European Network and Information Security Agency, Security Issues and Recommendations for Online Social Networks 6 (Nov. 14, 2007) (full-text).
  8. Press Release, Nielsen/NetRatings, U.S. Teens Graduate from Choosing IM Buddy Icons To Creating Elaborate Social Networking Profiles, According to Nielsen/NetRatings (Oct. 11, 2006) (full-text).
  9. One study reported that 55% of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 have created a profile on a social networking site, including 70% of girls ages 15 to 17 and 54% of boys ages 15 to 17. Amanda Lenhart & Mary Madden, Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview, Pew Internet & American Life Project (Jan. 7, 2007) (full-text).
  10. Id.
  11. Federal Trade Commission, FTC Facts for Consumers, Social Networking Sites: Safety Tips for Tweens and Teens (2006) (full-text).
  12. See Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, 15 U.S.C. §§6501-08; Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, 16 C.F.R. §312. See also United States v. UMG Recordings, Inc., Civil Action No. CV 04-1050 (C.D. Cal. filed Feb. 18, 2004); United States v. Bonzi Software, Inc., Civil Action No. CV-04-1048 (C.D. Cal. filed Feb. 18, 2004); United States v. The Ohio Art Company, Civil Action No. 4:CV03-350 (M.D. Penn. filed Feb. 27, 2003); United States v. Mrs. Fields Famous Brands, Inc., Civil Action No. 2:03 CV205 JTG (D. Utah filed Feb. 27, 2003).
  13. EU, Article 29 Working Party on Data Protection, Opinion 5/2009 on Online Social Networking (June 12, 2009) (full-text).

See also[]