Understanding Privacy

Understanding Privacy


Daniel J. Solove
(Harvard University Press 2008)

In this concise and lucid book, Daniel J. Solove offers a comprehensive overview of the difficulties involved in discussions of privacy and ultimately provides a provocative resolution.



by Daniel J. Solove
(Harvard University Press 2008)

Privacy is one of the most important concepts of our time, yet it is also one of the most elusive. As rapidly changing technology makes information more and more available, scholars, activists, and policymakers have struggled to define privacy, with many conceding that the task is virtually impossible.

In this concise and lucid book, Daniel J. Solove offers a comprehensive overview of the difficulties involved in discussions of privacy and ultimately provides a provocative resolution. He argues that no single definition can be workable, but rather that there are multiple forms of privacy, related to one another by family resemblances. His theory bridges cultural differences and addresses historical changes in views on privacy. Drawing on a broad array of interdisciplinary sources, Solove sets forth a framework for understanding privacy that provides clear, practical guidance for engaging with relevant issues.

Understanding Privacy will be an essential introduction to long-standing debates and an invaluable resource for crafting laws and policies about surveillance, data mining, identity theft, state involvement in reproductive and marital decisions, and other pressing contemporary matters concerning privacy.


“Daniel Solove has had the patience and insight to lay privacy bare. This is the most thorough and persuasive conceptualization of privacy written to date. Solove’s taxonomy of privacy will become the standard tool for analyzing privacy problems.”

— Peter Swire, Elizabeth and Tommy Holder Chair and Professor of Law and Ethics in the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology

“Daniel Solove offers a unique, challenging account of how to think better about– and of– privacy. No scholar in America is more committed to demystifying ‘the right to privacy’.”

— Anita Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania Law School

“With the publication of Understanding Privacy, Daniel J. Solove has firmly established himself as one of America’s leading intellectuals in the field of information policy and cyberlaw. . . Solove has now elevated himself to that rarefied air of “people worth watching” in the cyberlaw field; an intellectual — like Lawrence Lessig or Jonathan Zittrain — whose every publication becomes something of an event in the field to which all eyes turn upon release. . . Make no doubt about it, Daniel Solove’s book — and his approach to classifying and dealing with privacy problems — will have a profound impact on all future privacy debates. In that sense, it is a vital text; a must read for all who follow, or engage in, privacy debates.”

— Adam Thierer, Technology Liberation Front

“The heart of Understanding Privacy. . . lies in the rich taxonomy it develops to classify a diverse and comprehensive set of privacy problems. The framework both accepts and bridges cultural and societal differences, providing a flexible tool for identifying and understanding issues of privacy in whatever context they emerge. Professor Solove’s book is a concrete intellectual step forward–a practical guide for practitioners, theorists, and inquisitive laymen alike, as they attempt to address the multitude of perplexing, yet important, issues surrounding privacy.”

— Harvard Law Review

“Going beyond simple definitions such as the divulging of a secret, Solove has developed a taxonomy of privacy, and the harms that result from their violation. . . . Solove’s goal is to provide a coherent and comprehensive understanding of what is traditionally an elusive and hard-to-explain concept: privacy violations.”

— Bruce Schneier, Wired

“Much as Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis mapped the importance of privacy in the face of the changing technologies of their time, Solove has done the same (and then some) for ours. In a carefully crafted text, he illustrates the deficiencies of existing theories of privacy and then develops an alternative, pragmatic approach to mapping privacy’s everchanging terrain.”

— Danielle Citron and Leslie Henry, Michigan Law Review