The Data Protection Act and friend-finder tools

This is quite a brief article to just point out something that a lot of people haven't realised about the Data Protection Act (DPA).

Hopefully we all know that the main principle behind the DPA is that you can't divulge someone's personal information or contact details to a third party without their consent.

Most companies are now aware of the basic principles, and now most individuals are used to considering the DPA with the information stored in our head too. For example, when speaking to someone I know, if I suddenly think "ooh, they should really speak to my mate Bob, they could really help each other", I don't just give out Bob's phone number.

Instead, I do one of two things. I either contact Bob and just ask if that is OK (it's just common courtesy these days), or I ask the person I'm speaking to if I can give their details to Bob instead.

Most of us just do this without thinking about it.

But, there are still a lot of people putting friends email addresses into LinkedIn, or Twitter (or any number of other social media websites) to see if they're friends have an account they can connect to, or to ask them to join.

So what's wrong with this?

Well, if you put their email address into your computer, no problem. It's just a computer.

But if you put an email address into a website, that's not just a computer, that's a third party computer. You are divulging personal contact details to a third party, eg Facebook Corp.

This wouldn't be so bad if Facebook were a UK company which is regulated by the DPA. It wouldn't be too bad if it was an EU company regulated by EU law and the Data Protection Acts of the other EU countries.

But Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are US companies where there is no Data Protection Act at all. And LinkedIn is particularly liberal with data protection, violating even its own published privacy policy.

But are you going to get into trouble?

No, of course not. The Data Protection Act is the most violated and the least policed legislation on the statute book!

But you are definitely in danger of alienating your prospects if you can't look after their data before they're even customers.

If you're looking for your prospects (and other contacts) on social media sites, stick to keying in the publically accessible information, like their name. This way it'll be all above board, and you won't stand to alientate anybody.