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Privacy as Product Safety
Widener Law Journal (2010)
  • James Grimmelmann, New York Law School

Online social media confound many of our familiar expectaitons about privacy. Contrary to popular myth, users of social software like Facebook do care about privacy, deserve it, and have trouble securing it for themselves. Moreover, traditional database-focused privacy regulations on the Fair Information Practices model, while often worthwhile, fail to engage with the distinctively social aspects of these online services.

Instead, online privacy law should take inspiration from a perhaps surprising quarter: product-safety law. A web site that directs users' personal information in ways they don't expect is a defectively designed product, and many concepts from products liability law could usefully be applied to the structurally similar problem of privacy in social software. After setting the scene with a discussion of how people use Facebook and why standard assumptions about privacy and privacy law fail, this essay examines the parallel between physically safe products and privacy-safe social software. It illustrates the value of the product-safety approach by considering another ripped-from-the-headlines example: Google Buzz.

Forthcoming in a June 2010 symposium issue of the Widener Law Journal.

  • privacy,
  • products liability,
  • Facebook,
  • Google Buzz
Publication Date
Citation Information
James Grimmelmann. "Privacy as Product Safety" Widener Law Journal Vol. 19 (2010)
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