Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Re: [ACAT] From privacy to Orwell

Posting to Autocat

On 23/05/2012 01:46, john g marr wrote:
<snip>
We all need to be aware of privacy issues, and, in fact, we generally are (e.g. whether to turn circulation records over to the govt.).

I didn't see this article posed earlier, so thought I'd drop it into the mix. "The Terrifying Ways Google Is Destroying Your Privacy" / by David Rosen. Here's the URL:
http://www.alternet.org/story/155479/the_terrifying_ways_google_is_destroying_your_privacy?
</snip>
My own opinion on this--again, trying to return the conversation to the catalog and the library--is that this actually deals with the changes in the expectations of the public. I will take issue, at least to a point, with one statement made there: "Two complementary forces are driving this change: short-term corporate self-interest and a self-serving security-state. The ordinary American’s traditional privacy rights are giving way to the demands of the militarized corporate state. They are determining America’s digital economy and future."

There is at least one other force at work here: the existence of the Web2.0 tools, or the collaborative web. The only way for these "wonderful" search tools that provide you with results that are somewhat tailored to what you presumably want, are premised on getting as much information about *you* as possible. When I have told people about how Google and all of these sites put "cookies" on their machines so that they can track you, and how to find these cookies, what they look like and what it all means, people want to stop storing them. I show them how to delete cookies, and even how to shut them down completely but I also say that cookies are absolutely necessary in the internet environment. [For those who don't know, a cookie is just a string of numbers and letters left within your browser so that a remote machine knows that you really are who you say you are. In the current web environment, it is the only real option. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_cookie]

Of course, there are always people and organizations who try to take advantage of any openings they can find, and cookies offer a highly convenient point. There is a very interesting and frightening TED talk on this by Gary Kovacs: "Tracking the trackers" http://www.ted.com/talks/gary_kovacs_tracking_the_trackers.html where he talks about the Collusion add-on for Firefox.

I installed the Collusion add-on and found it not quite so bad as I thought. Some of these trackers are sites like Google Analytics, which tell you how people are using your site. I use it on my blog. You don't have any personal information, but you know that during the last hour or last week or last month, that x number of people got onto your site and looked at these pages; there is a breakdown by country; by how long people stayed on; the search terms on Google or Bing they used to find your site, how many were newcomers to your site and how many were returners, etc. In this case, I personally do not think this is a violation of anyone's privacy. I placed a screen clip of one part of mine where I looked at The Guardian newspaper, and these are the connections: http://www.jweinheimer.net/images/collusion.png. I see some I do not know, but there is Twitter, Linked In, Facebook, Google, and some others.

But, the moment you log into a site, a specific cookie can be placed into your specific machine and then you can be tracked. Google does this for anyone with a Google account, and this can happen anytime you log into any account, including a library account. I must say that it would be interesting, and maybe even useful, to know that a professor or grad student or undergrad in a specific department logged on and searched for specific terms.

I may not like many of these developments, but they are part of the very fabric of the internet. It would be very difficult at this point to change them. On the mobile web, this is probably magnified.

To return to the catalog: if we are to use the "wonders" of modern search in our catalogs, we seem to be stuck. To renounce them would be to ignore the expectations of our public.

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