The Law of Friction

55 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2012 Last revised: 20 Dec 2013

See all articles by William McGeveran

William McGeveran

University of Minnesota Law School

Date Written: December 19, 2013


“Frictionless sharing” became a Silicon Valley catchphrase in 2011. It refers to platforms such as Spotify or the Washington Post Social Reader that automatically publicize users’ activities in social networks like Facebook, rather than waiting for approval of each individual disclosure. This article carefully analyzes the benefits and drawbacks of frictionless sharing. Social media confers considerable advantages on individuals, their friends, and of course intermediaries like Spotify and Facebook. But many implementations of frictionless architecture have gone too far, potentially invading privacy and drowning useful information in a tide of meaningless spam. The article also dismantles the rhetoric of frictionless sharing. Because sharing is a volitional act, “frictionless sharing” is a contradiction in terms. In the physical world, too much friction can impede movement or even start fires, but too little would cause objects to slide off tables and cars off roads. The key to online disclosures also turns out to be the correct amount of friction, not its elimination.

Keywords: privacy, internet, computer, consumer, social networks, social media, Facebook, Netflix, frictionless sharing

JEL Classification: D18, K1, K2, K19, K20, K23

Suggested Citation

McGeveran, William, The Law of Friction (December 19, 2013). University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2013, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper 12-66, Available at SSRN:

William McGeveran (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics