The Future of Reputation


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Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Daniel J. Solove

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What information about you is available on the Internet? What if it’s wrong, humiliating, or true but regrettable? Will it ever go away?

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy. Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cybermobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Long-standing notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance between privacy and free speech, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

Daniel J. Solove is associate professor, George Washington University Law School, and an internationally known expert in privacy law. He is frequently interviewed and featured in media broadcasts and articles, and he is the author of The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age. He lives in Washington, D.C., and blogs at the popular law blog

Visit Daniel J. Solove's website or read his blog Concurring Opinions.

Click here to listen to an interview with the author on the Yale Press Podcast.

Discussion Questions for Course Use.

Click here to see Daniel Solove discuss his book as part of Google's Authors@Google speaker series.

“A timely, vivid, and illuminating book that will change the way you think about privacy, reputation, and speech on the Internet. Daniel Solove tells a series of fascinating and frightening stories about how blogs, social network sites, and other websites are spreading gossip and rumors about people's private lives. He offers a fresh and thought-provoking analysis of a series of wide-ranging new problems and develops useful suggestions about what we can do about these challenges.”—Paul M. Schwartz, professor of law, University of California Berkeley School of Law

“No one has thought more about the effects of the information age on privacy than Daniel Solove.”—Bruce Schneier, author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World

“As the Internet is erasing the distinction between spoken and written gossip, the future of personal reputation is one of our most vexing social challenges. In this illuminating book, filled with memorable cautionary tales, Daniel Solove incisively analyzes the technological and legal challenges and offers moderate, sensible solutions for navigating the shoals of the blogosphere.”—Jeffrey Rosen, author of The Unwanted Gaze and The Naked Crowd


"[An] effective and tight analysis of evolving tensions between reputational privacy and online expression. . . . A very solid socio-legal analysis of the relationship between gossip, rumor, and reputation maintenance and the responses, both normative and legal, to evolving forms of online expression. The work would fit well in both undergraduate and graduate courses which examine information privacy and law and society."—Alan Gaitenby, Law and Politics Review

"In the future, we may all be famous for fifteen minutes, but the Internet can preserve that fame—infamy—forever. We might do well to consider, with Solove, what we lose when we give up our privacy, and what aspects of freedom to communicate are worth preserving."—Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Barnes & Noble Review 

"Beneath Solove's legal suggestions rests a keen insight about the extent to which the Internet changes basic questions about privacy."—Mark Williams, MIT's Technology Review 

"Solove, both a distinguished privacy law expert and a popular, prolific blogger, wants to be the Brandeis and Warren of the new millennium. . . . Solove is an entertaining as well as a thoughtful writer. Much of Future is devoted to a detailed and often-amusing romp through the many disclosure debacles and privacy pratfalls of the digerati to date. Solove is a good storyteller, and he's got doozies."—Michael Stern, American Lawyer 

"A fascinating mix of sociology, legal theory and speculation. . . . Solove marshals a wide range of literary, historical and legal references. He’s read widely and thought hard about this devilishly complex situation."—David Freeman, Pajamas Media 

"I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a fun read that also manages to be a scholarly work on cyberlaw. . . .  I can’t emphasize enough how important Solove’s project is. In an era of knee-jerk libertarianism and First Amendment absolutism, Solove demonstrates that there are some baseline norms and laws that should govern the spread of personally identifiable information, gossip, and rumors. Against the conventional wisdom that would declare the net ungovernable, Solove offers hope that a gossip-saturated blogosphere can become a more fair, decent, and perhaps even public-minded place."—Frank Pasquale, Seton Hall Law School

"As Mr. Solove's thoughtful book reminds us, our technologies give us a heretofore-unknown level of control over information. But when it comes to our ability to manage information about ourselves—including the basic human need to defend our reputations—this control can prove illusory."—Christine Rosen, New York Sun 

"[A] fascinating 247-page look at how the World Wide Web is being used to enforce social norms. . . . Solove, an authority on information privacy law, has filled his book with outrageous examples that will engage the reader."—Jo-Ann Greene, Lancaster Sunday News 

"[The Future of Reputation] explores how the very human tendency to gossip and spread rumor is amplified by technology: Tittle-tattle is exponentially more powerful and damaging when blogged on the Internet. Though Mr. Solove worries about our sharp, wagging tongues and our eagerness to cast the first stone, he also points out the danger we pose to ourselves, the trap we set for ourselves with every item of personal data we post on the Web. He calls it 'the self-exposure problem.' In my house, we call it Facebook."—Adam Begley, New York Observer 

"The book is full of cautionary tales about how gossip, once restricted to whisper campaigns within limited circles, is fast creating indelible stains, driven by the Web."—Rhonda Bodfield Bloom, Arizona Daily Star 

"Daniel J. Solove eloquently postulates that the new freedom of information-flow on the Internet can enslave us by ruining our reputations and preventing us from becoming the people we want to be. . . . Solove’s crisp and refreshing writing strays from the ponderous tone many writers take when criticizing the Internet, achieving a balance of humor and levity that keeps the pages turning and demonstrates a real understanding of and engagement with the youthful Internet culture he analyzes."—Bram Strochlick, Harvard Crimson 

"Much of The Future of Reputation catalogs the ways in which privacy has diminished in an age in which technology allows for the diffusion of information and in which punishments for this diffusion are weak or sometimes simply impratical."—Gary Alan Fine, Wilson Quarterly

"Solove offers practical advice on how societal norms and laws can catch up with technology's relentless progress. . . . Rather than advocating the typical libertarian or authoritarian approaches to information control, Solove offers a funny and readable call for netizens and legal scholars to accept a more nuanced understanding of privacy."—Bennett Gordon, Utne Reader

"[A] brilliant recent book. . . . An honest and troubling account of the ways that we have become our own enemies."—Siva Vaidyanathan, The Chronicle of Higher Education

"Through an engagingly written series of anecdotes, Professor Daniel Solove describes a world where anonymous bloggers enforce social norms through public shaming, where fresh starts are increasingly impossible, and where traditional expectations of privacy are no longer guaranteed. . . . Timely and provocative, The Future of Reputation explores a principal dilemma of our age and provides a workable solution that may appeal to readers on both sides of the debate."—Harvard Law Review

"Solove has crafted an interesting book that balances some frightening examples of the power of blogging and gossip with serious discussions about the right of the individual."—Sydney Morning Herald

"Excellent and utimately upbeat. . . . The Future of Reputation . . . offers an eye-opening, entertaining tour along with its sombre philosophical atmosphere. . . . Solove deserves Kierkegaard's accolade, that to occupy oneself with the future is 'an indication of man's nobility'. Like many 'cyberphilosophers', [he is] discovering the future in the present with less wonted gloom and doom—and more incisive solutions—than many traditional literary and humanistic pronouncers on the subject."—Carlin Romano, Times Literary Supplement

‘… Solove persuasively identifies the law’s current “binary” notion of privacy as problematic; and argues for an enforceable system that lets us limit the flow of information to our various social networks. His nuanced and anecdote-rich text can conjure winces of vicarious embarrassment … Reader, I shuddered.’ - Steven Poole, Guardian

Winner of the 2007 Donald McGannon Award for Social and Ethical Relevance in Communications Policy Research, given by the McGannon Center.
ISBN: 9780300144222
Publication Date: October 28, 2008
256 pages, 6.125 x 9.25
17 b/w illus.

Discussion Questions (.pdf)

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The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security

Daniel J. Solove

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