There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in information you post on social networking sites, regardless of what privacy setting you use.
That is the rule that can be taken from Nucci v. Target Corp., a recent opinion from an appellate court in Florida. The court’s rationale is set out below, with citations omitted:
We agree with those cases concluding that, generally, the photographs posted on a social networking site are neither privileged nor protected by any right of privacy, regardless of any privacy settings that the user may have established. Such posted photographs are unlike medical records or communications with one’s attorney, where disclosure is confined to narrow, confidential relationships. Facebook itself does not guarantee privacy. By creating a Facebook account, a user acknowledges that her personal information would be shared with others. “Indeed, that is the very nature and purpose of these social networking sites else they would cease to exist.”
Because “information that an individual shares through social networking web-sites like Facebook may be copied and disseminated by another,” the expectation that such information is private, in the traditional sense of the word, is not a reasonable one.
As one federal judge has observed,
Even had plaintiff used privacy settings that allowed only her “friends” on Facebook to see postings, she “had no justifiable expectation that h[er] ‘friends’ would keep h[er] profile private. . . . ” In fact, “the wider h[er] circle of ‘friends,’ the more likely [her] posts would be viewed by someone [s]he never expected to see them.” Id. Thus, as the Second Circuit has recognized, legitimate expectations of privacy may be lower in e-mails or other Internet transmissions.
We distinguish this case from Root v. Balfour Beatty Construction, LLC. That case involved a claim filed by a mother on behalf of her three-year-old son who was struck by a vehicle. Unlike this case, where the trial court ordered the production of photographs from the plaintiff’s Facebook account, the court in Balfour ordered the
production of a much broader swath of Facebook material without any temporal limitation—postings, statuses, photos, “likes,” or videos—that relate to the mother’s relationships with all of her children, not just the three year old, and with “other family members, boyfriends, husbands, and/or significant others, both prior to, and following the accident.” The second district determined that “social media evidence is discoverable,” but held that the ordered discovery was “overbroad” and compelled “the production of personal information . . . not relevant to” the mother’s claims. Id. at 868, 870. The court found that this was the type of “carte blanche” irrelevant discovery the Florida Supreme Court has sought to guard against. The discovery ordered in this case is narrower in scope and, as set forth above, is calculated to lead to evidence that is admissible in court.
Thanks to my friend Dale Rodriguez for bringing this case to my attention.