Privacy Advisor

FRANCE—Online national directory sanctioned for indexing links to social network profiles

October 1, 2011

By Pascale Gelly, CIPP/E, and Caroline Doulcet

In what appears to be a landmark decision, the data protection authority on September 21 sanctioned  the Yellow Pages company for having made available a “webcrawl” functionality  along with its usual white pages online directory. This service, which has been suspended,  linked the search results made on the white pages with the profiles of the concerned individuals found on social networks and sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Copains’d’avant and others.

A large portion of the 65-million member French society—25 million individuals—including minors and unlisted people—were affected.

The CNIL determined that the activity consisted of an unfair collection of data, as the individuals—especially minors and those  not listed—could not be deemed as having knowingly provided their data to the social networks so that it could be used to add value to an online directory.

The privacy notice put on the white pages site did not convince the authority, since it was read by the user of the site doing a search rather than by the people whose names appear in the directory.

The CNIL agreed that the individuals could have been properly informed by the terms and conditions of the social networks. However, the Yellow Pages cannot rely on Facebook terms, which refer to the possibility for profiles to be indexed by third-party search engines. The CNIL is of the opinion that the site is primarily a directory, not a search engine, and that Facebook’s terms do not meet the French law’s notice requirements.

The data controller had reached an agreement with one of the social networks, TROMBI, so that they added a specific notice on their site, which led the CNIL to the conclusion that providing notice to individuals did not trigger disproportionate efforts.

Among other non-compliances, the CNIL noted that the linked profiles were often outdated—80 percent of Facebook profiles had not been updated for more than four months—and that it was very burdensome for individuals to exercise their rights of rectification and objection.

Pascale Gelly, CIPP/E, of the French law firm Cabinet Gelly, can be reached at pg@pascalegelly.com.

Caroline Doulcet  of the French law firm Cabinet Gelly can be reached at cd@pascalegelly.com.