Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

This posts ambitious title is the title of the book being reviewed, not something I intend to attack in this space. After all, Daniel J. Solove (a law professor at GW and author of the book) had 256 pages to tackle the issue and he failed to get at the heart of it. It's not that Solove's book was not a compelling read, it was, it's just that it did not live up to its title.
Instead of providing a view of the FUTURE of reputation on the internet it begins by providing horror stories from its brief past... a juvenile offender who can't outrun his crimes in adulthood, a guy whose sexual exploits are revealed on a national blog, etc... These stories are interesting and well researched, and reason enough to read the book if you're either interested in case studies in the power of the Internet or a little perverse and want to see if you missed out on any of the ones he considers huge breaches of privacy.
Then in the section I'm sure he considers about the future of reputation, he describes how he would limit breaches of privacy using the law as an instrument. The essence of his recommendation is a tort-based enforcement of the existing codes around "making private information public." He also suggests, without suggesting a reasonable way of doing it, encouraging parties to settle before going to court. Unfortunately, as plain as the essence of the arguement is, the devil is in the details. Solove himself considers many of the ways his essential plan would have to be nuanced to get over various legal and practical hurdles. The problem at the end of the day (in my opinion) is that their are too many necessary nuances for his vision to ever be implemented. If a law that is intended to protect the common man from the common man requires a law degree (or even the reading of Solove's 256 pages) then it will never be followed. Imagine if speed limits were not posted, but had to be inferred from several different characteristics of the road. Every speeding ticket could be contested by a skilled lawyer and you and I would have no idea how fast we were supposed to go on most roads. With all of the necessary nuances, I think Solove ends up in this type of situation.
While I have issues with his conclusions/recommendations the book is worth reading for an explanation of the dangers and a good (in the opinion of an untrained eye) view in to the laws (or lack thereof) that govern internet privacy today. Unfortunately, at the end of reading this I know little about the future of Reputation on the Internet, having only managed to form the opinion that a well nuanced tort will be too complicated to protect it. When I told Mike of Pittsblog that I was reading this book he, a law professor himself, recommended the work of a third law school professor by the name of Lior Strahilevitz. I have downloaded a few of Strahilevitz's legal papers and am trying to make my way through them to see if he makes a more reasonable arguement for the actual future of internet privacy. If he does, expect to see some updated thoughts.

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