Reflection blog – Privacy and the Hyperlinked Library

How can you take back control of your personal information? We have a plan. Join us.

Posted by Note to Self Radio on Monday, January 30, 2017

From WNYC’s project the Privacy Paradox

In a time when one in five Americans are online “almost constantly,” according to Andrew Perrin’s report about a recent Pew Research study, privacy is a major concern. As a technology user and citizen, I am nearly always thinking about what information about me is being shared across the web. I rely on Google for search and email, Facebook and Instagram for keeping in touch with friends, and apps like Waze and Lyft for getting around and navigating new cities. Even though I take more precautions than most, using a password manager and encrypting my data where possible, I know that I’m making a big trade off to use these services free of charge. After all, nothing is really free.

Most tech services use and share our activities and data to send us targeted advertisements. In the best case scenario, it’s pretty harmless, right? We’re all more or less used to being the target of high-paid marketing executives who attempt to sell us new TVs and soft drinks. What’s the big deal if Amazon shares our purchases with Facebook, who can then show us ads based on our past orders?

Well, it’s a pretty HUGE deal, if you ask most Americans. After Edward Snowden revealed the extent of data being collected by the U.S. government, privacy became a hot topic. Again, from Pew Research, about “93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important.” And based on what the podcast Note to Self found in their series called the Privacy Paradox, it turns out we don’t have a lot of control.

It isn’t hard to make the connection to libraries. There is a long history of the FBI seeking the activity and check-out records of citizens, and of librarians fighting back to protect their patrons’ right to privacy. The ALA has pretty clear guidelines about librarians’ responsibilities regarding privacy.

“In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others.”

As more library services live in the digital world, it is more important than ever for information professionals to understand how digital information is collected and staying constantly updated on best practices for ensuring that everyone’s data is secure and protected.

American Library Associaton (2014). Privacy: Advocacy, Legislation, & Issues.

Madden, M and Rainie,, L. (2015). American’s attitudes about privacy, security and surveillance.

Perrin, A. (2015). One-fifth of Americans report going online ‘almost constantly’.

WNYC (2017). Privacy Paradox: the Note to Self podcast presents a 5-day plan to take back your digital identity

13 thoughts on “Reflection blog – Privacy and the Hyperlinked Library

  1. Hi Joel! I spent a little time reading the PEW research this week but I didn’t take a look at the Privacy readings and thanks to you, I think I will–very interesting post. It makes me wonder if there are any libraries that offer training sessions about managing privacy online and what we can do to protect ourselves to the best of our abilities. I’ve never used a password manager or dealt with data encryption and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I think it could be a really valuable information session to develop and one that people would be interested in attending at their local libraries, especially now.

    • Profile photo of Joel Joel says:

      @eglybrand I agree about having info sessions and resources about web privacy at public libraries. So much of this stuff is “uncharted territory” for most people, and librarians could be in a unique position to help everyone protect their data.

  2. My husbands phone predicts when he is leaving work and automatically tells him how many kilometres he will need to travel to get home, also works in reverse. His phone is a business phone and he wonders if the big bosses are able to access this information, hmmmm.

  3. Lori Broger-Mackey says:

    I forgot — yesterday I read that people spend ONE BILLION hours a DAY watching You Tube videos. Think of all the commercials there too. If you ever look at your Google search history, it’s amazing and frightening in how it remembers everything (even if you don’t).

    • Profile photo of Joel Joel says:

      @loribromac I always tell my friends/family to check their Google account settings. I looked at mine and it had a list of every YouTube video I had ever watched! It’s cool for getting recommendations for things I might like, but just a little creepy.

  4. Profile photo of Paula Greene Paula Greene says:

    @joelholland like you, every time I go online just perhaps to conduct a simple search I know that I am making a trade off regarding the privacy of my data. When it comes to transacting business online, I definitely know that my information is out there for anyone to access if they want to. So there if definitely a trade off that we make every time we expose private information online. Frankly, I don’t see this situation improving, so as you also noted, as individuals we must take some precautions to convince ourselves that we have some level of control over what we put out there:)and libraries can do a lot to educate clients likewise. This is a topic very dear to my heart so I enjoyed your post.

    • Profile photo of Joel Joel says:

      Thanks for your comment @paula! I think these issues will be more and more discussed as we go forward, so I’m somewhat hopeful for useful privacy tools for the average person. It seems like Apple has a done a good job with automatically encrypting users’ data, and I know that Google has “Do Not Track” turned on by default on newer versions of Chrome.

      I’m going to contact my local public library to introduce a “Privacy 101” class or something similar 🙂

  5. I am so glad this post and comments touch on education the public via the library about privacy and related concerns. I think it should start early too – with kids and teens and with their parents in various types of programming. My one concern is not to frame it as a big scary awful thing but something to be mindful of and thoughtfully approach.

    In my PL career, I would sometimes spend a day driving to 3-4 branches for various training etc. How weird would it be now to have my employer view my location via some app etc…. hmmmm.

  6. Profile photo of Kelly Chung Kelly Chung says:


    I love your idea of introducing a “Privacy 101” at your local library and it reminded me of a mom that recently came into the library after attending a technology meeting at one of the local schools. The meeting was geared towards addressing issues with providing technology like phones, tablets, etc. to their young children. When she came into the library she was “mind-blown” and said they addressed things that she had never even thought of! I think inviting this type of program into the library setting is a great idea!

  7. You’re absolutely right that nothing is really free. Your idea of a “Privacy 101″ workshop at a local library is a great idea. I can’t stress enough how much time I spend telling patrons that I cannot divulge certain information due to privacy issues, such as a husband coming into the library to renew his wife’s books, or pay a fine, or even pick up a hold. Sometimes having the physical library card means ” implied” consent, so they are welcome to check out material, but I can’t renew books, or take payments because that would mean generating a payment slip with the items checked out.

  8. Profile photo of Beth Harper Beth Harper says:

    So I’m going through older posts and catching up because I fell really badly behind with that earlier in the semester, and I was really struck by how relevant this post is to this article from Module 12 and specifically the included chart. Digital safety and security are quite literally the flip side of digital rights and literacy. And all of these skills overlap and inform and shape each other.

    I fret a lot about patron privacy, partly because patrons themselves seem to either not be concerned with it at all or to have a too much concern about not particularly relevant things/not enough information or understanding dynamic going on. Like, they don’t want to give a known organization their email address but think nothing of expecting to be able to pick up a family member’s hundreds of dollars worth of physical materials no proof of relationship or permission of any kind. It’s frustrating and concerning.

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