Is It OK to Use Deceit to Get Facebook Users’ Info?

The Philadelphia Bar Association has issued an advisory opinion (PDF) concluding that it is unethical for a lawyer to have a third party “friend” somoene on Facebook for the purposes of getting information about that Facebook user.

Facebook lets users fine tune their privacy settings, allowing a user to lock down all their info so it is only visible by friends or subsets of friends. I’m personally of the view that if a user has locked down their privacy settings, they are explicitly expressing an expectation of privacy in the material that is posted. But if someone voluntarily friends someone who made the request for investigation puropses, have they waived that privacy vis-a-vis that person? And is it unethical to try to obtain that info for the purposes of investigation? The Philly bar thinks so, but it would be interesting to know what Slaw readers have to say.

Feel free to comment on this opinion and this issue.


  1. Whether or not it’s a question of legal ethics, it is distasteful. If you don’t draw the line there, where do you?

  2. When is it ever OK to use deceit to get Anything?

  3. My understanding of investigative techniques that courts will allow is that it is OK for an investigator to misrepresent himself (eg to pose as a buyer of products). but it is not OK to impersonate someone else (eg for me to pretend I’m David Fraser.)

    So by having someone try to get added as a “friend” – perhaps it should be OK so long as the “friend” doesn’t pretend to be someone else? After all, its up to the individual to accept others as “friends”, so if they do that without really knowing who that “friend” is (so long as the “friend” has not lied about who they are) – has not the individual just lowered his expectation of privacy by being less discriminating?