Tension Between Personalization And Privacy

Most academic libraries would probably want to offer the sort of personalization features to their user communities that those users have come to expect with web retailers such as Amazon and Netflix. Consider “pushing” to a user news about some recent articles that are on the same topic as ones he or she retreived within the last few weeks. I imagine our users might like that sort of thing – or they might consider it an invasion of their privacy. It appears that concern won’t stop a few libraries from moving further into the realm of personalization.

Personalization versus privacy is the subject of an article in Sunday’s New York Times. It mentions projects at North Carolina State University and Notre Dame that will make it possible for the library to recommend new articles or other items based on previous uses of the collection. Other librarians from different segments of the profession, as well as a user or two, are asked about their concerns over data collection for the development of a personalized research system. Given the current Patriot Act environment in which we find ourselves there are some who observe that the less private data collected by libraries the better off we all are. But then again, should we let those concerns stand in the way of progress. Sounds like we’ll need to talk about this more with our users to find out if they are willing to sacrifice privacy for personalization.

2 thoughts on “Tension Between Personalization And Privacy”

  1. The Patriot Act also allows the gov’t to sieze records from businesses too. Myself, I’d much rather entrust my interests and my breadcrumbs to a library (or to some other non-profit organization). Someone that could provide at least a greater degree of trust and protection. I’d definately opt into a national program … perhaps some sort of federated initiative driven by grid technology? I’m guessing that grid technology might be vital to library organizations of the future. Doing so might enable them to join together in mass to share resources and enable local physical touch points along with geographic reach. I hope that made sense 😉 … Just a surface level reaction.

  2. One thing the article didn’t cover very well was why, when computers in libraries can obviously be used to commit crimes, are libraries so opposed to this act and its provisions? it isn’t because we don’t know that or are against ever assisting law enforcement in an investigation, but because this law lowers the bar for probable cause to near zero and enables the FBI to sign its own subpoenas with a built in and permanent gag order. National Security Letters have been executed 30,000 times (and at least once against a library organization). This practice is a serious challenge to our traditional checks and balances and it is one of the reasons that a bipartisan group of senators finally had the guts to stand up to the house on Friday and demand that Congress stop, take a deep breath, and think about it. Good for them!!

    Interestingly, this country has always held the state to higher standards than business, and in the arena of privacy this has meant there are virtually no legal protections against corporations gathering and using data (short of moving into a cave and living off the grid). The kinds of data mining that corporations can do here is illegal in Europe. But we’ve grown so used to it that we accept it, and it makes it much easier for us to also give up for convenience the privacy that is a condition of intellectual freedom.

    Letting individual users choose whether or not to give up their privacy in exchange for convenience misses the point. It is those whose freedom is most threatened – those who want to read controversial material, explore ideas, or have reason to fear (whether grounded in reality or not) whose freedom is threatened if the majority say “I don’t care who knows what I’m reading; go ahead and keep tabs.” Unless those records are protected – and currently they are not – we’re commodifying libraries and surrendering our values. We’d better do it with our eyes wide open.

    Of course I’m personally a little creeped out when I go to a database like Amazon and it greets me by name and suggests what I should read next. Like Hal in 2001 – that patient, calm voice of automation that has somehow made me feel less human.

    On a completely unrelated note – this weekend I was trying to follow the PATRIOT Act news and while trying to link to the Alawon information that came out via e-mail Friday to another blog, I found the ALA page not dynamically updated. This is really too bad since I couldn’t link to the ALA ” voice” – I found the link to the Senate document using Be Spacific. Excellent source, that – but can’t we as an organization do better to be up-to-date?

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