Parents, Privacy, and Facebook: Legal and Social Responses to the Problem of Over-Sharing

In Ann Cudd & Mark Christopher Navin (eds.), Core Concepts and Contemporary Issues in Privacy. Springer. pp. 175-188 (2018)
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This paper examines whether American parents legally violate their children’s privacy rights when they share embarrassing images of their children on social media without their children’s consent. My inquiry is motivated by recent reports that French authorities have warned French parents that they could face fines and imprisonment for such conduct, if their children sue them once their children turn 18. Where French privacy law is grounded in respect for dignity, thereby explaining the French concerns for parental “over-sharing,” I show that there are three major legal roadblocks for such a case to succeed in US law. First, US privacy tort law largely only protects a person’s image where the person has a commercial interest in his or her image. Secondly, privacy tort laws are subject to constitutional constraints respecting the freedom of speech and press. Third, American courts are reluctant to erode parental authority, except in cases where extraordinary threats to children’s welfare exist. I argue that while existing privacy law in the US is inadequate to offer children legal remedy if their parents share their embarrassing images of them without their consent, the dignity-based concerns of the French should not be neglected. I consider a recent proposal to protect children’s privacy by extending to them the “right to be forgotten” online, but I identify problems in this proposal, and argue it is not a panacea to the over-sharing problem. I conclude by emphasizing our shared social responsibilities to protect children by teaching them about the importance of respecting one another’s privacy and dignity in the online context, and by setting examples as responsible users of internet technologies.
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