Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life

By Helen Nissenbaum | Go to book overview

3 Capacity to Spread and Find
Everything, Everywhere

AS DISCUSSED IN CHAPTERS 1 AND 2, ENHANCED POWERS TO gather and stockpile information have yielded socio-technical practices often experienced as threats to privacy. The subject of this chapter is a third cluster of systems and practices that are also contributing to a sense of privacy's precarious place among societal values. As with the previous two, this cluster is based on digital information technologies; however, in this case, it draws mostly on the extraordinary surge in powers to communicate, disseminate, distribute, disclose, and publish—generally, spread—information. Powerful new capabilities have yielded a continuous flow of systems and practices that challenge expectations and vex our understanding of the sources and extent of their threat to privacy. Consider, for example, a couple of such cases that have garnered public attention.

Street View is a utility of Google Maps, which was publicly announced in May 2007. As described by Google, Street View offers 360-degree photographic “streetscapes” that allow users to “explore neighborhoods at street level—virtually” (Google 2007). Users can control its photographic images by panning 360 degree vistas and progressing along them as if strolling or driving down a road. What is causing the greatest glee and consternation and attracting the public spotlight is a feature that allows users to zoom in and out of particular views. Because the images were photographed in real time, these magnifications sometimes yield personally identifying close-ups of people and their possessions. Already infamous are images of women students sunbathing

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