Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 289–302 | Cite as

Contextual gaps: privacy issues on Facebook

  • Gordon Hull
  • Heather Richter Lipford
  • Celine Latulipe
Original Paper


Social networking sites like Facebook are rapidly gaining in popularity. At the same time, they seem to present significant privacy issues for their users. We analyze two of Facebooks’s more recent features, Applications and News Feed, from the perspective enabled by Helen Nissenbaum’s treatment of privacy as “contextual integrity.” Offline, privacy is mediated by highly granular social contexts. Online contexts, including social networking sites, lack much of this granularity. These contextual gaps are at the root of many of the sites’ privacy issues. Applications, which nearly invisibly shares not just a users’, but a user’s friends’ information with third parties, clearly violates standard norms of information flow. News Feed is a more complex case, because it involves not just questions of privacy, but also of program interface and of the meaning of “friendship” online. In both cases, many of the privacy issues on Facebook are primarily design issues, which could be ameliorated by an interface that made the flows of information more transparent to users.


Internet Privacy Contextual integrity Social networking Facebook 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gordon Hull
    • 1
  • Heather Richter Lipford
    • 2
  • Celine Latulipe
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of North Carolina CharlotteCharlotteUSA
  2. 2.Department of Software Information SystemsUniversity of North Carolina CharlotteCharlotteUSA

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