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Feb 21, 2017

Helen Nissenbaum (@HNissenbaum) is on the faculty if Cornell Tech, on leave from NYU where she Professor of Media, Culture and Communication and Director of the Information Law Institute. Her eight books include Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest, with Finn Brunton (MIT Press, 2015), Values at Play in Digital Games, with Mary Flanagan (MIT Press, 2014), and Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life (Stanford, 2010). Her research has been published in journals of philosophy, politics, law, media studies, information studies, and computer science. Grants from the National Science Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator have supported her work on privacy, trust online, and security, as well as studies of values embodied in design, search engines, digital games, facial recognition technology, and health information systems.

Recipient of the 2014 Barwise Prize of the American Philosophical Association, Prof. Nissenbaum has contributed to privacy-enhancing software, including TrackMeNot (for protecting against profiling based on Web search) and AdNauseam (protecting against profiling based on ad clicks). Both are free and freely available.

Nissenbaum holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University and a B.A. (Hons) from the University of the Witwatersrand. Before joining the faculty at NYU, she served as Associate Director of the Center for Human Values at Princeton University.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • the commercial and political contexts that animate policy discussion around privacy.
  • the means by which citizens may use technology to obfuscate their lawful online activity and activism.
  • points of alignment between consumer privacy advocates and the tech sector.
  • policy recommendations.


Cornell Tech

NYU Steinhardt Department of Media, Culture and Communication

Obfuscation: A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum (MIT, 2016)

The Crooked Timber of Humanity by Isaiah Berlin (Princeton, 2013)

Ad Nauseum




Republican California Representative David Nunes, who is Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which has been investigating Russia's role in the 2016 election, has said he'd like to know why the FBI recorded former national security advisor Michael Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador in the first place. He said it was an invasion of Flynn's privacy. Trump forced Flynn to resign two weeks ago, after it was revealed that Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn's contacts with Russian officials days before the election. Trump himself did not inform Pence about Flynn's conversations until at least 2 weeks after Trump knew about them, according to the Washington Post. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chafetz also said his committee had no plans to conduct a further investigation. Mike Debonis has the story in the Washington Post.  Politico reports that conservatives worried about leaks from federal employees have asked federal agencies to look into employees' use of the encrypted data app Signal.


Amidst intense competition from T-Mobile and Sprint which have long offered unlimited data plans, Verizon will now itself offer unlimited data once again. Verizon had stopped offering unlimited data in 2011.


The Chief of Samsung Group was arrested last week in South Korea. Forty-eight year old Jay Y. Lee, a member of South Korea's richest family,  is accused bribing individuals connected with South Korean President Park Geun Hye, who was impeached in December on corruption charges. Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee cover this in Reuters.


Amid increased cyber warfare, Microsoft President Brad Smith is calling for a "digital Geneva Convention". At the RSA security conference last week, Smith noted “Let’s face it, cyberspace is the new battlefield." Smith said the convention should define rules of engagement, such as rules under which nation's would pledge not to disrupt civilian infrastructure. Elizabeth Weise covers this in USA Today.


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a 5,800 word missive last week in which he took a stand in support of globalization and Facebook's role in it. The wave of nationalism that has swept the Western world has prompted a debate about the merits of globalization. Mike Isaac has the story in The New York Times.


Snapchat set its valuation between $19.5 and $22 billion ahead of its long-anticipated IPO. In that range, it would be the largest IPO since Alibaba's in 2014.


At the RSA conference last week, Assistant FBI Director Scott Smith said the federal law enforcement agency will be ramping up its use of predictive policing technology. Smith said, "It’s where we are moving, and hope to go when you talk about predicting as opposed to proactive and reactive. Reactive is consistently where we have been, proactive means we’re really trying to get ahead of it. But predictive is where we want to be. And that’s where I know FBI Cyber Division is strongly moving towards as we speak ..." Catch Chris Bing's full story is in FedScoop.


Finally, Senator Orrin Hatch--Utah Republican and head of the Republican High Tech Task Force--offered up his tech agenda last week. The agenda targets H1B visa reform and improving cross-border digital trade. Hatch also supports the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which passed the House earlier this month, which would require law enforcement officials to obtain search warrants for emails. Hatch's plan was praised by tech sector leaders, including Consumer Technology Association president Gary Shapiro. Alexis Kramer has more at Bloomberg BNA.