Skip to main content

News & Events

2021 Distinguished Lecturer Helen Nissenbaum

The Distinguished Lecture Series at the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering brings leading experts in the fields of human-centered design to the University of Washington to spark new ideas and innovative conversations. These events are free and are open to the public, as well as University of Washington faculty, students, and staff.

2021 Distinguished Lecturer
Helen Nissenbaum

Contextual Integrity:
Breaking the Grip of Public-Private Distinction for Meaningful Privacy

Recorded March 5, 2021


Helen Nissenbaum
Professor, Cornell Tech
Director, Digital Life Initiative

Privacy is one of the most urgent issues facing information technology and digital media. While many discussions about privacy have focused on whether or not personal information should be shared, we also need to talk about what constitutes appropriate and proper sharing of information. Information should be distributed and protected according the norms that govern different social contexts such as the workplace, schools, or among family and friends. Just as people constantly negotiate appropriateness while living and working in different social contexts our information systems also need to function with regard to social norms and values. In this talk, Professor Nissenbaum discussed contextual appropriateness, or integrity, in regards to information privacy and critiqued notions of a public/private dichotomy when it comes to thinking about privacy.


Helen Nissenbaum is a Professor at Cornell Tech and in the Information Science Department at Cornell University. She is also Director of the Digital Life Initiative, which was launched in 2017 at Cornell Tech to explore societal perspectives surrounding the development and application of digital technology, focusing on ethics, policy, politics, and quality of life. Her own research takes an ethical perspective on policy, law, science, and engineering relating to information technology, computing, digital media and data science. Topics have included privacy, trust, accountability, security, and values in technology design. Her books include Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, with Finn Brunton (MIT Press, 2015) and Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life (Stanford, 2010). Grants from the NSF, AFOSR, and the U.S. DHHS-ONC have supported her work. Recipient of the 2014 Barwise Prize of the American Philosophical Association, Nissenbaum has contributed to privacy-enhancing software, including TrackMeNot and AdNauseam. Nissenbaum holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University and a B.A. (Hons) in philosophy and mathematics from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.