Cover of Privacy in Context by Helen Nissenbaum
Privacy in Context
Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life
Helen Nissenbaum


304 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804752367
Paperback ISBN: 9780804752374
Ebook ISBN: 9780804772891

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Privacy is one of the most urgent issues associated with information technology and digital media. This book claims that what people really care about when they complain and protest that privacy has been violated is not the act of sharing information itself—most people understand that this is crucial to social life —but the inappropriate, improper sharing of information.

Arguing that privacy concerns should not be limited solely to concern about control over personal information, Helen Nissenbaum counters that information ought to be distributed and protected according to norms governing distinct social contexts—whether it be workplace, health care, schools, or among family and friends. She warns that basic distinctions between public and private, informing many current privacy policies, in fact obscure more than they clarify. In truth, contemporary information systems should alarm us only when they function without regard for social norms and values, and thereby weaken the fabric of social life.

About the author

Helen Nissenbaum is Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, and Computer Science and Senior Fellow of the Information Law Institute at New York University. She is the coeditor of Academy and the Internet (2004) and Computers, Ethics, and Social Values (1995), and the author of Emotion and Focus (1985).

"[S]ubtle and important . . . There is no doubt that Nissenbaum thinks with the learned . . Before the book appeared Nissenbaum's work on privacy was already well respected and widely cited. The present book should seal her reputation as one of a handful of leading privacy theorists today. My guess is that the book will be required reading for a long while to come for all who want to make significant contributions to the debate about the ethics of privacy."

—Tony Doyle, Journal of Value Inquiry

"[Privacy in Context] takes the privacy discourse several steps ahead. Nissenbaum sets an ambitious goal and accomplishes it in grand fashion. She proposes a detailed framework to better understand privacy issues and assist in prescribing privacy policies that meets the needs of the 21st century . . . [T]he book breaks new paths. It signals the beginning of a new privacy paradigm (an assessment that will be easier judged in hindsight) and is an important contribution to the growing law and technology literature."

—Michael D. Birnhack, Jurimetrics

"Nissenbaum has written a badly needed and accessible book that can serve as a guide through the emerging digital maze without demanding that we surrender our right to privacy in return... Her book offers a straightforward and articulate account of the role that privacy plays in a democratic society, the ways in which technology undermines it, and the steps we need to take to ensure that we don't succumb to the faulty logic of data-hungry corporations."

—Evgeny Morozov, Times Literary Supplement

"This book provides a refreshing, contemporary look at information privacy in the twenty-first century. Nissenbaum persuasively argues that privacy must be understood in its social context, and she provides an insightful and illuminating account of how to do so. For anyone considering the burgeoning problems of information privacy, Privacy in Context is essential reading."

—Daniel J. Solove, George Washington University Law School and author of Understanding Privacy

"Privacy in Context is a major achievement. It is rare for anyone to come into a field so well plowed and make a genuine contribution. Grounded in extensive knowledge of the theoretical literature and a real engagement with the practicalities of informational instability that surround us, Nissenbaum's new framing of the tensions raised by surveillance and processing of information is important. Practical and oriented to the world and its social practices, rather than to abstractions or formal claims, contextual integrity is a concept both rich and detailed, with which any serious debate about privacy in the networked environment must now engage."

—Yochai Benkler, Harvard University

"This much anticipated book, written by one of the world's most brilliant, dynamic philosophers of technology, offers a model for predicting and explaining privacy breaches. It also furnishes pragmatic solutions for resolving policy disputes about newly proposed socio-technical information systems. It solves puzzles not easily resolved by traditional privacy theory, advances a coherent framework for rejecting the private/public dichotomy as the basis for the right to privacy, and contributes to a deeper understanding of judicial constructs used to resolve hard cases. Helen Nissenbaum has achieved what many of us have yearned for."

—Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology, University of Ottawa