Saving Facebook

Article Source: Iowa Law Review, Vol. 94. pg.1137, 2009
Publication Date:
Time to Read: 2 minute read
Written By:



This article proposes rules for ensuring that privacy on social networking sites like Facebook is protected.


Policy Relevance:

New rules are needed to ensure that privacy is protected on social networking sites.


Key Takeaways:
  • Social network sites like Facebook allow users to create a profile of themselves online, and share that profile with a list of other users.

  • For social reasons, people often include sensitive information on their Facebook page, such as sexual orientation or religious affiliation. Linkages made on social network sites support existing relationships and create new ones, relying on reciprocity.

  • Facebook’s reassuring interface and other factors make it hard for users to rationally assess risks to their privacy. People tend to behave as if their disclosures on Facebook will be seen only by a trusted few, but this is not true.

  • Changes in the way Facebook works mean that information originally posted for one purpose eventually comes to be used for a different purpose, defeating users privacy expectations.

  • Market forces cannot address this problem, because users do not assess privacy risks rationally and so firms are unlikely to supply more privacy, a market failure.

  • Privacy policies are unlikely to help because few users read or understand them. Technical features that protect privacy can be confusing, are not always used, and many users disable them. Restricting teens’ access to social networking sites is not workable.

  • Policies that might work include:
    • Lawsuits against those who make public facts intended to be private.
    • Bar sites from using user profiles in advertising without consent.
    • Require sites to make it easier for users to close their accounts and delete information.
    • Require sites to get consent before changing practices that affect information.
    • More user education of other users.



James Grimmelmann

About James Grimmelmann

James Grimmelmann is Professor of Law at Cornell Tech and Cornell Law School. He studies how the law governing the creation and use of computer software affects individual freedom and the distribution of wealth and power in society. As a lawyer and technologist, he helps these two groups understand each other by writing about copyright and digitization, the regulation of search engines, privacy on social networks, and other topics in computer and Internet law. He teaches courses in property, intellectual property, and Internet law.