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Privacy matters

The [] conference held July 28 & 29 touched on privacy issues repeatedly, as might be expected for a conference dealing with topics such as geolocation and “augmented reality.” Lisa Carlucci Thomas in her keynote on “Risk, Reality, & the Mobile Revolution” suggested, “the mobile geo-social web may be the beginning of forgetting that privacy was ever an option.”

One version of the story I heard is that, increasingly, we are offering our identities, our real-time locations, and our shopping decisions in exchange for small prizes, fake titles, and new types of old fashioned coupons. In this scenario, the world has become some kind of giant gumball machine, where the coin of exchange is our privacy.

As a counterpoint, in the same week as the conference, First Monday published a new paper on Facebook privacy settings and the privacy practices of 18- and 19-year olds. Here, we learn that “far from being nonchalant and unconcerned about privacy matters, the majority of young adult users of Facebook are engaged with managing their privacy settings on the site at least to some extent” (italics added).

The paper concludes with a call for great care on the part of the private sector and government in the implementation of privacy controls: “it is imperative that companies and policy makers consider how default privacy settings and changes in these settings affect populations differently.”

I’m usually an optimistic person, but I have trouble feeling very hopeful about “companies and policy makers” taking this advice. It’s the kind of thing that demands a willingness to put 18- and 19-year olds (and everybody else as well) in front of the bottom line.

This is exactly why it’s important for stakeholders, developers and decision-makers in the library space to concern themselves with this issue.

It brings to mind a discussion we had here at CDL a little over a year ago when we were hashing out our organizational Values Statement. The part about privacy is fairly simple: “We safeguard the privacy of our users in their quest for information.”

Our Values Statement went through many drafts. Many. But every draft, from the very beginning, had a privacy statement in it. We knew from the beginning that this was something we all believed in. And, I suspect, you would find that this is the case in every library you might happen to visit.

Lisa Carlucci Thomas concluded her observations about privacy by suggesting that “Librarians, as advocates for freedom of information and privacy and promoting literacy skills in their communities should consider the opportunity of developing information programs about best practices for life in the mobile environment.” I think she’s right. We can also model how to release mobile applications that are respectful of personal privacy, and we can insist that our vendors and service providers adhere to the highest privacy standards.

What else do you think we should be doing?