As I looked at the data collected by a 2016 Pew Research Center study on Americans’ Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance, the results shows that many persons are very aware that their personal information is increasingly at risk for unauthorized access as the internet, social media and online services continues to grow. Respondents expressed a general lack of confidence in the security and privacy of their personal data and the mapping of their online activity by online service providers. There was also a sense that they the consumer were powerless to control the ways in which their data would be used even though there has been attempts by some security minded persons to limit the amount of information they place out there.
I believe that we are now at a stage where the horse is out of the barn where our digital footprint is concerned. The more we choose, or are forced to transact our affairs online, the less we are able to control what we put out there, inadvertently or otherwise. Pew’s article on Privacy and Information Sharing noted that “while many Americans are willing to share personal information in exchange for tangible benefits, they are often cautious about disclosing their information and frequently unhappy about what happens to that information once companies have collected it” (Pew, 2016). When that “tangible benefit” (whether that may be simply ordering movie tickets or filing taxes online) is very important to us, we are very often willing to risk life and limb for the ease of getting what we need online.
So that yes, we can take steps to be careful about what type of websites we go on and the amount of private information we submit on online forms. However, there may be no real way for us to limit the type of personal information captured when we really don’t know who is capturing that information, what type of data they are interested in and for what purpose, and how they access the data in the first place. Additionally, as the Big Data phenomena continues to grow, mining of data is almost as exciting as mining for gold in the good old days.
The fact therefore is that while we may not be able to control how our digital information is used, we can indeed take steps to educate ourselves about privacy in the digital age, and as professionals, sensitize our customers about the risks of putting their information out there. We can also plan for security initiatives in our libraries help us along the way.
In the Copyright Toolkit, there is a link to an article by Alison Macrina about Protection Patron Privacy. Macrina looked at the role libraries can play in expanding traditional literacy training to include methods that patrons can use to minimize threats to their digital information. Macrina suggested a combination of creating a more secure systems infrastructure, and security and privacy education in libraries through the following tasks:
- Teach strong password strategies
- Teach secure texting and calling
- Update software and remove Flash
- Offer online anonymity with Tor Browser
- Use HTTPS for all library digital services
I also looked the Library Freedom Pledge which is a wonderful step in the right direction for “libraries, vendors that serve libraries, and membership organizations” to ensure that all parties involved in providing library services to customers are committed as a group to the protection of customer privacy. This Pledge also focus on the need for secure HTTPS connections and encryption when using the library websites and other online services. Feel free to also look at the Library Freedom Project, the founders of this Pledge and the role they play in educating libraries about privacy in an age of increased digital surveillance.