Changing Face of Privacy

I’m leading a webinar on Facebook tomorrow, and because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about changes I’m seeing in online privacy.

So, as librarians, we historically have been defenders of our patrons’ right to privacy. It’s in our Code of Ethics: “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”

On the opposite end of that are some pretty hip social media companies, like Google Plus and Facebook. Those two companies seem to have an unstated goal of making our world open and transparent … or at least, as open and transparent as we want to be.

Facebook does this by setting default privacy settings to Public. Google Plus does this (at least for now) by requiring us to use our real names on accounts.

Interestingly enough, some of our library tools are pushing for openness in different ways, too. Here are two examples of that:

  • Many of us are familiar with the Overdrive/Amazon deal. Amazon knows what your patrons have checked out, because they send them an offer to buy the ebook 3 days before it’s due. Amazon is, in essence, using what us librarians consider private info that we would never share, to sell ebooks to our patrons. It’s actually a handy thing to do… but flies in the face of our privacy ethics.
  • My library is in the process of moving to Polaris for our ILS/Library catalog. One really cool feature we’ll be getting is public lists. As a patron, I will be able to keep a list of books that I’ve read … and make that public, embed it on my blog, etc, via an RSS feed. It’s an opt-in feature, but still… very public, and very different from what us libraries have traditionally done.

This brings up quite a few questions in my mind:

  • Are libraries ready for opt-in/opt-out transparency?
  • Are we ready to check TOS agreements to catch and discuss things like that with vendors?
  • Some of us are bound by local or state laws on privacy. Are we ready to have discussions about those laws?
  • At the ALA level … are we ready to start discussing potential changes to our code of ethics and other privacy-driven discussions at a national level?
  • Are you ready to protect your own level of privacy
  • Are you ready to learn privacy settings in each online tool, and teach these to your customers?
So – what do you think? And how is your library addressing privacy issues online? I want to know!
  • Robin Hastings

    As for the ALA-level bullet point, I’m not sure we need to change the official stance of protecting patron privacy. I don’t see a conflict in that *we* keep things under wraps as much as humanly possible, but we also let *them* decide what *they* want to make public. Sort of like my salary information – I’m free to give it to whomever I please, but I expect my boss and HR person to keep that information to themselves. We can still protect patron privacy while giving them the tools (and training!!) to be public.

  • KathyS

    When I’ve been talking with patrons about the new Kindle book process, I’ve discussed it w/ them a bit and no one has had a problem with Amazon’s digging into their privacy. As one patron pointed out to me, they chose that openness when they bought their Kindle, rather than one of the other ereaders. It was an interesting attitude, especially contrasting with the library world concern about privacy.

  • Mylee Joseph

    I think one particular challenge for libraries is when these social services change their terms of service mid-stream or are purchased / merged with another service. The lifecycle of these services is a lot shorter than a lifelong library membership.

  • Chad Mairn

    Some excellent things to ponder here for sure! Personally, I would like having access to books I’ve checked-out over the years even after I returned them. Sure, I could “store” this information via goodreads, GetGlue etc., but it would be handy if my library had that information available for me if I wanted it. Anyway, I am pasting my Google+ comments here: 

    I did a “Facebook Privacy” workshop a while back and I started with this question: Is “Facebook Privacy” a contradiction? I think it is especially if you use the strict definition of privacy. Facebook’s mission is to help you “connect and share with the people in your life” and that technically isn’t private.  In the workshop, we spent some time on the term privacy, which is defined as “the state or condition of being alone, undisturbed, or free from public attention, as a matter of choice or right; seclusion; freedom from interference or intrusion.”  I then scared the participants when I highlighted and explained passages (e.g., deleted items are still available outside of Facebook etc.) from the official Facebook Privacy Policy ( I am playing devil’s advocate here when I ask if librarians should worry less about our user’s privacy since a lot (not all) of our users don’t seem that concerned? I think librarians should teach our patrons about privacy, so that they understand the issues; then they can decide for themselves if it is important or not. 

  • Dorothy Sieradzki

    Freegal is another weak link in the patron privacy issue.  The reports list every library card number and track downloaded.  Because that info exists it’s a short step to misuse/abuse.  Patrons are losing their anonymity using our resources.

  • Jimmy the Geek

    In an age of ever-changing and (mostly) never-read Terms of Use pages, this is probably going to be an eye-opener for some folks. Regardless of what your library has in its own Privacy Policy, you might want to consider addressing 3rd-party privacy issues as a revision to it!

  • Shaun Dakin

    Very interesting about the deal.  Had no idea.   Will discuss at our next Privacy Chat on Twitter.

    Every Tuesday at Noon ET >  #PrivChat on #Privacy

    Shaun Dakin
    Co-Founder #PrivChat
    Founder @PrivacyCamp:twitter

  • Malavika

    @SAULib just moved to Polaris– yesterday!! We are 20 libraries who made the move. You can find us at @RiverShareLib

  • Bob

    David–thanks for the article– I hadn’t really thought of how my library records’ sensitivity, I think your probing at a really pertninent question that’s in the process of finding its equilibrium.  If the internet is to serve me, am I alright with it learning from my behaviour?

    I think an opt-in strategy is a really good start, I think the best move forward is anonymization. I’m much more comfortable with someone reading my information without knowing who i am.

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