Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Privacy Thoughts

Posted by lpearle on 27 February 2010

Today three things happened that got me thinking about privacy:

  1. @lbraun2000 tweeted approvingly about this NYTimes article, saying that libraries need to consider adopting this model.
  2. I heard about PleaseRobMe, a website that links to Foursquare in an attempt to make people aware of their privacy breaches. (although, as this post posits, it’s a case of plus ça change)
  3. I received an e-mail from a cousin that said he’d been mugged in Britain and was without cash, credit cards or cell phone and needed my help.

How do these tie in together?  It’s all about privacy.  If my cousin (whom I know is not in Britain but is safe at home, unmugged) had alerted Foursquare that he was, indeed, away from home shopping for something, and then used his smartphone to make the purchase, I would know by following his Twitter feed.  Being his cousin, I could take vicarious pleasure in traveling with him and commenting on his taste (and bank account).

But what if I were someone else, someone less loving and supportive?  I’d have a general idea how long it would take him to return (and in this case, Britian to Boston can’t be done in anything less than a few hours).  I’d also have a general idea about his tastes and his net worth, so would know that I’d have quite a bit of time to get in and get out of what could be a very nicely appointed home. I could be wrong (about the home and the net worth; it could be a gift bought on credit), but if this were my m.o, chances are I’m pretty good at finding my mark.

I’m also concerned about using this technology in libraries.  Yes, I think it’s a great idea that we let people know that libraries are being used, that books are being borrowed, and that this is more than just babysitting snow day children.   My concern is about the child (or teen) borrowing a book about a sensitive topic and that information getting out.  How do we protect that information?  How do we protect that child/teen?

This issue of privacy is increasingly worrisome for me.  I see students (and adults) sharing information on Facebook and Twitter that previously they might now have shared.  I know things about some of my “friends” that I don’t want to know, and I try not to overshare with them in return.  How do we talk with our students about these issues if we ourselves are losing our boundaries?

My fear is that we’ll go too far with our lack of privacy, and then there’ll be a backlash that negates some of the really good things about these new tools.

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