Google’s (Lack of) Privacy

Before I read this article, I didn’t fully realize the extent to which Google stores users search data and puts cookies on their computers so that searches can be tracked to individual people (how do they store all that data?), or that it scans the content of g-mail to create advertisements. The author claims there is a tension between Google’s mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” and it’s motto, “don’t be evil.” Google might want to flesh out that motto a bit, perhaps by turning to how libraries have balanced these two conflicting priorities. Yet Google has another motto, “make money,” which is arguably a more direct source of the conflict.
What Google Should Roll Out Next: A Privacy Upgrade, New York Times

All Things Googled

Tony Sanfilippo, of Penn State’s university press, talked with The Ethicist on All Things Considered about Google’s library program. The Ethicist thinks the opt-out idea is not nice at all, and likens it to a burglar requiring you to list the things you don’t want stolen – only a good analogy if you assume what Google is doing is stealing – but he does point out there are other ways of looking at it. (I’ll steal your television, but I’ll only watch snippits?)

Sanfilippo does a good job of naming his real problem with the program: Google and the libraries they work with will have digital copies of books that the presses themselves don’t have in digital format (since they were produced in a pre-digital era) and he fears one or the other could undermine the market for digital sales, and without sales UPs can’t publish new research. Personally, I don’t agree on the library side of the issue: I find it impossible to imagine the Unversity of Michigan would illegally distribute their digital copies and one library having one digital copy seems unlikely to undermine sales in a significant way. What Google might someday do … well, that’s harder to predict.

Including what they call the program: it’s suddenly been renamed Google Book Search.

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.

One-Way Signs on the Information Highway

The Washington Post had an article a few days ago that spells out in depth the extent to which National Security Letters – like the one used against a library consortium in Connecticut – are used routinely against law-abiding Americans: thirty thousand since the PATRIOT Act was enacted. Congress, according to the Chronicle, is finally noticing. But of course those served with NSLs can’t contribute to the debate – that’s against the law.

Meanwhile, Inside Higher Education is reporting a suit to prompt the honoring of FOIA requests to find out why visas are being denied to foreign scholars. Though the government wants us to trust them to rummage through our information at will, they’re awfully reluctant to comply with laws that let us get information from them.

To paraphrase the slogan often found on the walls of diners: “In God We Trust: All Others, Bring a Subpoena.” If you care about these things, take action. Because pretty soon it’ll be too late.

Good Fences Make Good News?

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.

While most of us are all for openness, the public editor of the New York Times points out that there are “Cracks in the Wall Between Advertising and News” – partly because of shrinking advertising revenues for news operations and partly because the consolidation of the industry means those revenues are more important than ever – the goal is to make shareholders happy; informing the public has to come second.

Emerging advertising models have contributed to the dismantling of the wall by harvesting information about readers and using it in ways that traditional broadsheets would never dream of. Why shouldn’t journalists follow suit? Well, they have ethics, for one thing…

Here’s a case where good fences make good journalism- just bad business partners in an era when advertising relies on a not-so-cuddly Cookie Monster to find its audience.