Published on July 24, 2013 by William Nunnelley  

Woodrow Hartzog, a law professor at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law, has established himself as an expert in the burgeoning field of privacy law.  He spoke recently at Facebook's corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on the topic, "Obscurity as Privacy for Social Technology Users."  This followed his earlier speaking engagement at Google's corporate headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., on the same topic.  In August, he will give a paper at an international privacy law conference at the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

"In the age of social media, it is increasingly important for companies, policy makers and Internet users to have a more nuanced understanding of privacy in socially-shared information," Prof. Hartzog said at Facebook.

During his talk, Hartzog explored the various ways in which social media companies could design software to respect and allow for the production of obscurity.

"The law has struggled to provide consistent protection for information shared with others. Additionally, companies designing social technologies are tasked with protecting 'privacy' without a sufficiently clear understanding of what that term means in social contexts. I've argued that the concept of 'obscurity' can help. Information that is obscure in that it is unlikely to be found or understood, is, to a certain degree, safe. Social media users rely upon this protection and companies and policy makers should respect that."

Hartzog traveled to Google's corporate headquarters during the 2012 academic semester. As in his presentation at Facebook, Hartzog explored how the term privacy has been over-extended in the digital age and how other more refined concepts such as confidentiality and obscurity might be more effective to guide policy and design.

The months of June and July were busy for Hartzog. In addition, to his Facebook presentation, he traveled to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for the International Association of Privacy Professionals' Navigate conference where he gave an uplifting presentation about obscurity as a better way to think about privacy. Access video of his Navigate presentation. Also, Hartzog traveled to the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, D.C, to present his latest paper, "The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy," with co-author Daniel Solove. He also spoke at a conference titled "The Law & Economics of Privacy and Data Security," which was hosted by the Law and Economics Center at the George Mason University School of Law.

Hartzog will speak on "Reviving Implied Confidentiality" at Clare College at the University of Cambridge in August.

"Privacy law and policy has never been more important than in the digital age," he said. "Since most companies now deal with significant amounts of personal information, they cannot afford to have poor privacy and data security practices. Privacy is also critical in the law enforcement context, given the massive amount of personal information available for use in criminal investigations and intelligence gathering."

Hartzog is a graduate of Samford University (B.A.), Samford University's Cumberland School of Law (J.D.), The George Washington University Law School (LL.M.), and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Ph.D.). The 2013-14 academic year will be his third year of teaching at Cumberland School of Law.


Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.