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Promises and Privacy: Promissory Estoppel and Confidential Disclosure in Online Communities

38 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2009 Last revised: 12 Aug 2017

Woodrow Hartzog

Northeastern University School of Law and College of Computer and Information Science; Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society

Date Written: September 14, 2009

Abstract

Online communities often provide significant support for those who seek it. Yet in order to take advantage of that support, users must frequently disclose sensitive information such as dating profiles, candid thoughts, or even past substance abuse. What happens when other community members fail to keep this potentially harmful information confidential? Traditional remedies will likely fail to protect people when members of an online community violate the confidentiality of other members. In this Article, I contend that promissory estoppel, an equitable doctrine designed to protect those who detrimentally rely on promises, can ensure confidentiality for members of online communities. The application of promissory estoppel via a website’s terms of use agreement as a method for protecting disclosure has substantial advantages over tort-based, technological or contractual remedies. Under the third-party beneficiary doctrine or the concept of dual agency, these agreements could create a safe place to disclose information due to mutual ability to enforce promises of confidentiality.

Keywords: privacy, confidentiality, online communities, social network sites, cyberlaw, technology, disclosure

Suggested Citation

Hartzog, Woodrow, Promises and Privacy: Promissory Estoppel and Confidential Disclosure in Online Communities (September 14, 2009). 82 Temple Law Review 891 (2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1473561

Woodrow Hartzog (Contact Author)

Northeastern University School of Law and College of Computer and Information Science ( email )

416 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.northeastern.edu/law/faculty/directory/hartzog.html

Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society ( email )

Palo Alto, CA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/profile/woodrow-hartzog

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