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Privacy as Product Safety

James Grimmelmann

Cornell Law School; Cornell Tech

February 26, 2010

19 Widener Law Journal, Vol. 19, p. 793, 2010
NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10 #26

Online social media confound many of our familiar expectations 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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 35

Keywords: privacy, products liability, Facebook, Google Buzz

JEL Classification: K00

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Date posted: March 1, 2010 ; Last revised: October 27, 2012

Suggested Citation

Grimmelmann, James, Privacy as Product Safety (February 26, 2010). 19 Widener Law Journal, Vol. 19, p. 793, 2010; NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09/10 #26. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1560243

Contact Information

James Grimmelmann (Contact Author)
Cornell Law School ( email )
Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
Cornell Tech ( email )
111 8th Avenue #302
New York, NY 10011
United States
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