Tag: privacy

When you can’t choose privacy

As part of its Privacy Revolution efforts, ALA declared last week Choose Privacy Week, with this year’s efforts focusing on youth and privacy. If you dig into the websites and publicity around the event, you’ll find that this initiative is about creating dialogue about privacy in our society today, but I didn’t see a lot of talk on blogs or Twitter this week about privacy–at least, not more than I usually do. That’s especially disappointing because I think that in a lot of cases, you can’t choose privacy, as ALA exhorts us to do. (more…)

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Leave a Comment May 9, 2011

Miscellany: school children replace library staff after cuts, trends in book challenges, some neat library history, bookishly getting into the Christmas spirit, and more

After library cuts, staff replaced by school children
Many school libraries still face budget cuts that mean reductions in library service. While I was still on the job hunt, I mentioned that one of my classmates had applied for a school librarian position that the district decided to instead fill with a volunteer, but here’s something that tops even that: Durham Elementary School in Tigard, Oregon replaced a salaried library assistant with school children volunteers.

Tigard-Tualatin eliminated Pasteris’ position this year, along with the district’s nine other elementary media assistants. The move saved $420,000, but keeping the libraries functioning without assistants has been a challenge.

“The hard part is finding out what are some things we just really have to stop doing,” Byrom Elementary Principal Rick Fraisse said.

District officials say there was little choice in the matter. If not the library assistants, something else would have been cut to deal with the district’s budget woes.

There are now no elementary school media assistants in this school district. And the libraries are not managing to operate normally without them: there are things they’ve had to stop doing–and that means providing services or materials. One school didn’t have morning announcements for a month because it’d been part of what the library assistant did! District officials may say there was little choice, but is the library really the least important thing, the best choice when it comes to cuts? If a school intends to educate its students, the library should be at the very heart of that, not an extra to cut as soon as there’s a budget shortfall. And no, you can’t replace library staff with volunteers and expect things to carry on smoothly like before.

A white pin-on button with black text reading "The Worst Part of Censorship is [scribbled out]"

Recent trends in book challenges
In further ugh-inducing news, USA Today recently covered trends in book challenges and bans across the country. While the total number of challenges (or those reported to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, at least) has been steady at 400-500 challenges per year for the last thirty years, those challenges are more often coming from organized groups rather than one offended individual (and I’d guess that means that there are fewer people actually reading the books they’re challenging and more people just acting on what some organization has told them). And, insanely enough, “[T]he American Library Association and other groups say they have seen a noticeable rise in complaints about literature used in honors or college-level courses.” College-level courses. I assume that means college-level courses in high school and not actual college courses; if I’m wrong, please let me know so I can go weep for the youth of today. I know parents want to protect their children for as long as they can, but if those kids are taking classes that they can use for college credit, I don’t think you can expect the content of the literature to be squeaky clean. Yikes.

Some neat library history
After those two depressing bits of news, how about some lighter library history? The week before last saw the birthday of Otis Hall Robinson (1835-1912), the man who put the holes in the catalog cards. Before this innovation, patrons would remove cards and then put them back out of order–or keep them for later reference. The University of Rochester Library (where Robinson worked) has a longer biography of the man.

The New York Society Library has made public its first charging ledger, which records checkouts from 1789 to 1792 and includes records of what prominent New Yorkers, members of Congress, and even the Vice President and President were borrowing at the time. You can search the ledger, see at what individual people were borrowing, and even look at digital scans of actual pages from the ledger.

When we were working on our community repository project last spring, the head of the genealogy center at the Eckhart Public Library discussed his thoughts on balancing privacy and access: he wanted to make as many things as open as possible, but some records–like library card registrations from generations ago that gave people’s names and addresses–remained closed indefinitely for privacy reasons. So while it’s fun to see what George Washington was reading, and it gives us a more nuanced view of the man who was our first President, and he’s been gone long enough that he and his descendants probably won’t care, I wonder if there’s a statute of limitations on privacy. Do we violate our professional principles when we open these records, even if the particular people involved are long dead? I’d say probably not, but it’s something we need to consider every time we open what would normally be closed records, no matter how interesting the contents of those records.

Get into the holiday spirit, library style
To get you in the Christmas spirit, check out this book-based “ghetto tree” and the larger tree Delta College (MI) librarian Jennean Kabat constructed out of books.

The tree is constituted predominantly by copies of publications such as Congressional Quarterly Almanac and The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.

Those books were chosen for a reason.

“We went into the collection and took a few of the books that aren’t used quite as often as others,” Kabat said.

That hasn’t stopped some students from giving the library staff a little good-natured grief.

“We’ve had some people come by and ask, ‘What if I need to use that book in the middle there?’ and we’ve said, ‘Too bad, you’ll have to wait until January,’” Kabat said, adding that her project reminds her of the nerve-racking game Jenga.

And more!
College Humor wonders what classic sci-fi stories would look like as children’s books. All five are great, but I think my favorite is The Very Deadly Bounty Hunter just for the sheer incongruity between the original book and College Humor’s take:

And finally, did you hear? The previously-capped-at-eight-books Pretty Little Liars series will be expanded by another four titles starting with Twisted in July. I’ve heard from other librarians that the dangerous divas/rich bitches/backstabbing beauties books are falling off in popularity among their patrons, but the Pretty Little Liars series and others like it are still going strong at my library, so I’m sure my patrons will be thrilled to see new material.

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3 Comments December 14, 2010

Miscellany: authors vs. works, dystopian YA lit at the New Yorker, and online reputation management

Wired’s Mr. Know-It-All argues for differentiating the author from the work in a recent column and also touches on how hard it is to keep kids from reading what they want:

The bottom line is that many a great author has been a lout. Yes, it’s disappointing to learn that one of your literary idols doesn’t share your values. But that doesn’t negate his talent for mixing philosophical heft with orbital bombardment. And besides, any ban you impose will likely backfire. Kids dig anything that’s taboo, and books are pretty easy to obtain. (At least until the firemen come.)

The first statement in the Library Bill of Rights says in part, “[m]aterials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” I struggle with this sometimes because as an informed consumer, I don’t want my money to support things with which I don’t agree, but as a librarian I understand that we need to be able to differentiate the work from its creator.

Since I was a teen myself, dystopian novels have been my favorite, so it’s been exciting to see so many–and so many good ones–published in the last few years. Laura Miller’s article today in the New Yorker, “Fresh Hell,” she discusses the “recent boom in dystopian fiction for young people,” pointing to the Hunger Games trilogy (just 71 more days until MOCKINGJAY comes out!), the Uglies trilogy, THE MAZE RUNNER, INCARCERON, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, LITTLE BROTHER, FEED, and THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO as examples. She recognizes that dystopian lit has been part of the YA landscape for decades (specifically naming THE HOUSE OF STAIRS–one of my favorites as a teen!–and THE GIVER) but writes, “The world of our hovered-over teens and preteens may be safer, but it’s also less conducive to adventure, and therefore to adventure stories,” and wonders if this is the reason dystopian lit is seeing a surge in popularity. Miller notes that YA dystopian lit tends to be less soul-crushing than dystopian novels for adults, and using THE HUNGER GAMES and UGLIES as examples, draws parallels between YA dystopian narratives and the adolescent experience. It’s an interesting read and is also another example of how adults are noticing–and reading–more YA lit than ever before.

A graph showing what percentage of respondents said they took steps to limit the information about them that appeared on the Internet, sorted by age. Young people are the most likely to do so and seniors are the least likely.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has another report out on young adults and tech; this one finds that young adults (actual adults ages 18-29 in this case, not teens) are the most likely of all age groups surveyed to actively manage their online reputations. (The graph I’ve included here is just one dimension of online reputation management.) We change privacy settings, we Google ourselves, and we limit who can see our profiles. A lot of the time when we talk about teens and tech, we talk about making sure they’re safe online, but it sounds like seniors are the ones we need to be talking to about online reputation management: just 20% of respondents ages 65+ take steps to limit what information about them appears online.

And finally, another post from Offbeat Earth that shows some really amazing art made with books and pages from books. The one with the octopus is my favorite!

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2 Comments June 14, 2010

Privacy follow-up: what you should do, what companies should do

In a discussion on my recent post on Facebook and privacy, Erin linked me to “Privacy Is Dead… And It Could Be Great,” which claims that part of the reason we are more willing to give up our personal information is that for the first time, we’re getting value back. When we give our personal information to Facebook, it improves our Internet experience.

My first response was that that perception of exchanged value is what makes handing over our privacy so alluring and why it’s become harder to convince people that they might want to resist giving up that information. I also linked this to the increasing commercialization of society and the transformation of people into consumers.

Erin responded–rightly–that there are people who want this, that being able to go to Yelp and have Facebook automatically fill in your location is a great feature. And while I would rather live more privately and have fewer integrated tools like this, I need to respect that other people will make different choices.

And really, it’s the ability to make an informed choice that is really important to me. I will continue to advocate for caution and reservation when it comes to sharing your personal information, but what is more important to me is that you know what information you’re giving out, who will have access to it, and what it will be used for, and that you will have the ability to control what happens to your personal information.

Earlier this month, David Lee King asked if privacy is really that big a deal. He concludes that the information you share on Facebook isn’t important enough to bother hiding and that a lot of it is already available elsewhere on the web.

But there are multiple facets to privacy: you should think about which people will have access to your information (which maybe isn’t such a huge deal with Facebook), but you should also think about what Facebook will do with that information. While having integration between different websites makes doing things on the Internet easier, companies don’t exist to make your life cooler. They exist to make money, and when you give them your personal information, they’re going to try to figure out how to make money off of it. Will Facebook sell your information to spammers and junk mailers? Probably not–but they could if they wanted to, and they will use their massive store of incredibly detailed information about each user to sell ad space to organizations that want to target a very specific group.

I can’t remember where I heard about it, but Aza Raskin has a great blog post on what should matter in privacy. After a workshop on online privacy, he and Lauren Gelman and Julie Martin came up with seven attributes they’d like to see represented with icons that give users an indication about how the information they give to websites will be used:

  • Is you data used for secondary use? And is it shared with 3rd parties?
  • Is your data bartered?
  • Under what terms is your data shared with the government and with law enforcement?
  • Does the company take reasonable measures to protect your data in all phases of collection and storage?
  • Does the service give you control of your data?
  • Does the service use your data to build and save a profile for non-primary use?
  • Are ad networks being used and under what terms?

With privacy online, my major concerns are two-fold: do users know what’s happening to their information? And can companies be trusted with it?

In 2009, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

In libraries, we offer people a place to seek information without fear of having what they’re doing revealed because only then can you seek information freely. Just because you want to do something privately doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it. If a patron wants to get information on STIs, he or she doesn’t want to do that in a forum where other people might find out–and that doesn’t make the patron a criminal.

In the case of Google and Facebook, when leaders within the company speak so derisively about privacy, you need to be concerned. They don’t care if your privacy is protected because protecting it isn’t profitable, so it’s up to you. Know what you are agreeing to when you accept the Terms of Use. Know what might be done with your information. Demand more transparency and accountability from the corporations to which you give your information.

While I hope people will be cautious about their personal information online, what is more important is that peple be informed and that peple be able to put their privacy settings at a level that is comfortable to them.

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1 Comment May 21, 2010

Facebook, privacy, and you

I’ve wanted to write a post about Facebook and privacy for some time now, but the more I thought about it the more I wanted to say. Social networking, privacy, and the way people’s behavior changes between real life and online activities is endlessly fascinating. But this isn’t the place for a 5000-word essay (and you wouldn’t read that anyway), so instead I hope this will serve as an introduction to why you should be thinking about your privacy if you use Facebook.

A cartoon in black and white on a bright green background by someecards. Depicts an older man clutching a computer monitor with the caption, "I can't believe there are so many privacy risks involved in broadcasting my entire life on Facebook."

I mean seriously

Erin sees Facebook as being on the cutting edge of integrating social networks into our real lives. While these new developments are exciting because more and more bits of our lives are being connected, and those bits are all being connected to our pre-existing social graphs, our expectations of privacy (even our understanding of what privacy is) and our ability to protect it are slipping away. But why should you care about privacy in the first place?

In “The Newest Way to Screen Job Applicants: A Social Networker’s Nightmare” (2008), Carly Brandenburg reports that 10-12% of hiring managers screened potential applicants by searching for them on social networking sites. And that was when Facebook only had about 50-100 million users–in January it reached 400 million users and is more accessible to more people, meaning recruiters and managers are only more likely to be using it to get to know the real you beyond your resume.

But maybe you’re not looking for a job or you think your privacy settings are under control. Are you sure? How do you know? Default privacy settings on Facebook have been changing over time; in short, more of your data is available to more people than ever before. Matt McKeon, a developer with the Visual Communication Lab at IBM Research’s Center for Social Software, put together a great interactive chart showing just how much things have changed. For example, here’s 2005:

A daisy-shaped graph depicting the default privacy settings for Facebook as of 2005. Most information is available only to your friends and your network with a few areas available to everyone on Facebook. Nothing is available to any Internet user.

Click through to see more detail and recent developments

Now, by default, your name, gender, profile picture, likes, photos, wall posts, networks, friends–everything except your contact information and birthday–are available to anyone on the Internet. Before, employers would have to know someone in your network or one of your friends to get any real information about you, but now all they need to do is Google you. It’s up to you to manually change your settings to keep anything private.

And that would be bad enough on its own, but what makes it worse is that changing your privacy settings can be tricky. The New York Times ran a piece earlier graphically demonstrating “the bewildering tangle of options” that is privacy in Facebook. They say you have to go through 50 settings with more than 170 options to get it all.

They also point out that Facebook’s privacy statements have exploded in length: in 2005 the statement was a mere 1004 words (two-thirds the length of this post); today it is 5830 words. For comparison, Flickr’s is 384, Twitter’s is 1203 (that’s less than nine tweets), Friendster’s is 1977, and MySpace’s is 2290 words. Have you read Facebook’s privacy policy? What about the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (i.e., Terms of Use)? Surely you read those–you had to agree to them when you signed up for Facebook!

And how do you know if those terms change? They certainly don’t message everyone to let them know. Facebook is slightly ahead of other online services in that rather than reserving the right to change the terms of use immediately and without notifying anyone–making it your responsibility to periodically review the Terms of Use for changes–they at least offer a Page you can follow to be notified of updates. (As of the time of this writing, 1,498,639 people are doing so–about 0.4% of the total population of Facebook users.)

Facebook is also improving its attitude toward intellectual property. We talked a lot in my Seminar on Intellectual Freedom last spring about how Facebook used to retain ownership of the photos you shared even if you deleted them; they’ve since changed their policy so that you retain the rights to your content, but

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

So if Facebook wants to create a commercial to air during the Superbowl with photos of you and your friends completely wasted at a party, they have the right to do so–and they don’t have to pay you to use those photos. And it doesn’t matter how you’ve set your privacy settings; just by uploading the content to their servers, you grant them the license to use it. And if your friends copy and share that photo, too, then deleting your copy doesn’t do anything.

There are a lot of people who have no idea that what they share on Facebook is so widely available. Will Moffat created Openbook, which searches people’s status updates for what could be compromising public confessions (e.g., “I hate my boss,” “cheated test,” “stupid customer“–be careful, some of the things other people are searching for are more rude than these examples). So remember this when you post a status update: by default, the entire Internet can see it unless you change your privacy settings.

And even if you’ve managed your privacy settings well, you should still be careful about what you post because as your online social graph more closely mirrors that of your real life, there will be people who have access to your profile that you won’t want knowing everything about you. Failbook collects user-submitted screenshots of drama playing out on Facebook; one of the more serious ones I’ve seen is that of David, a student who posted graphic death threats aimed toward his principal and teachers… and was Facebook friends with his principal.

So you want to better protect your privacy and not ruin your life by what you do on Facebook. With such a complex set of privacy options, you may need some help with the basics. GigaOM recently featured “Your Mom’s Guide to Those Facebook Changes, and How to Block Them” by Matthew Ingram (he quotes a librarian, hooray!). I like that this article doesn’t just tell you what to do, but why you’re doing it and what you’re preventing.

If you want something that’s faster and more automated, use ReclaimPrivacy.org’s Facebook Privacy Scanner (independent and open source!). It’ll check the major ways in which your data might be leaked to the outside world and give you a one-click way to fix most of them. Do note the limitations, though: it doesn’t check your photos and status updates. You’ll have to secure those manually.

If you want it really easy, Untangle’s SaveFace automatically sets your privacy settings for your contact information, search settings, friends, tags, connections, personal information, and posts to “Friends Only.”

Facebook announced yesterday that they would soon launch new privacy settings where users will have “simplistic bands of privacy that they can choose from.” No word yet on what that actually means, but I suppose they’re at least trying in some way to respond to user concerns.

However, whatever advances Facebook makes in its privacy settings, Mark Zuckerberg does not care about your privacy. He thinks you are stupid for trusting him with your data. In an early IM chat with a friend shortly after he launched the original Facebook, he wrote:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb f***s

(via Wired)

It’s possible that Zuckerberg’s attitude toward privacy has changed in the intervening years, but after the fiasco of Beacon, the increasingly complex and hidden privacy settings, and the continued expansion of access to your data, I have a hard time believing that.

There are some interesting developments going on in social networking that decentralizes all of that data. Four students at NYU are working on Diaspora* (their punctuation), which has been funded by donations through Kickstarter and will let users keep all of their data on servers they control.

It’s going to take a lot to challenge Facebook, though, so in the meantime, please think about what you’re posting and make sure your settings protect your privacy at a level with which you’re comfortable. And tell other people.

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3 Comments May 19, 2010

The Librarian’s Oath

Last spring during my Seminar on Intellectual Freedom, Shellie and I were discussing how librarianship doesn’t have a professional organization that controls licenses to practice and that while we have the ALA Code of Ethics (and the Library Bill of Rights and the Freedom to Read Statement and lots of other statements from the Office of Intellectual Freedom), there isn’t an oath we have to take to become librarians like (for example) doctors do.

So once we started nearing graduation, I took the general structure of the Hippocratic Oath and filled in that framework with content from the ALA Code of Ethics and did a little tweaking and came up with a Librarian’s Oath:

The Librarian’s Oath
I swear by Seshat the scribe, Athena, Sophia, and Nidaba, and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witness, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and covenant:

I will not advance private interests at the expense of library users, colleagues, or my employing institution.

But I will provide the highest level of service to all library users and ensure equitable, unbiased access to materials and services, recognizing that a person’s right to use the library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

I will respect intellectual property rights and support balance between the interests of information users and rights holders.

I will uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.

All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.

In all aspects of my work I will strive for excellence and will maintain and enhance my knowledge and skills. I will support the professional development of my colleagues. I will encourage the aspirations of potential members of the profession.

Both at work and in the community, I will be an advocate for the library and I will champion libraries and my fellow librarians.

If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all people and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.

Professor Japzon (Andrea, that is) administered the Oath to a group of us after graduation today; we raised our right hands and recited it in unison (Shellie and I also held a copy of the Intellectual Freedom Manual). It turned out to be a little long for a public recitation, but I really enjoyed being sworn in and made an official librarian by someone in the field. Along with all of the academic regalia and ceremony and tradition of the day, it made for a very official-feeling way to officially join the ranks of the profession.

So now I’m a real, MLS-holding, Oath-swearing librarian!

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6 Comments May 9, 2010


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