Case Law

Privacy in Social Networking Sites Grounded in 'Wishful Thinking'

New York

Romano v. Steelcase Inc., 907 N.Y.S.2d 650 (Sept. 21, 2010). In this personal injury action, the defendants sought access to the plaintiff’s current and historical Facebook and MySpace accounts, including all deleted pages and related information, which may have contained information inconsistent with claims made concerning the extent and nature of the plaintiff's injuries. The court found that the public portions of the plaintiff's social networking sites contained content that was material and necessary to the litigation, and discerned a reasonable likelihood that the same would hold true as to the private portions. Despite the plaintiff’s objections on privacy grounds, the court cited privacy disclaimers in the MySpace and Facebook policies, and held that production of the plaintiff's social network account entries would not violate her privacy rights. The court also found the defendant's need for the information outweighed any privacy concerns, and determined that preventing access would directly contravene the strong public policy in favor of open disclosure and condone attempts "to hide relevant information behind self-regulated privacy settings." Noting commentary that "privacy is no longer grounded in reasonable expectations, but rather in some theoretical protocol better known as wishful thinking," and that sharing personal information with others "is the very nature and purpose" of social networking sites the court ordered the plaintiff to provide necessary authorization for access.

Keywords: Facebook, MySpace, social networking, privacy