Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Sunday, June 01, 2003
(study) LIBR525 diary: week 9 privacy  
updated - somewhat better

1. (what, why, how can it be understood or rectified?) This has been a tough topic to crack. I have got opinions on issues of privacy in general, and how they relate to libraries, but finding something worthwhile to say about the issue is another matter. I'm finding my thought processes tend to overlap too much with what I wrote about access to official information.

Having said that, I think a key issue is the threats posed to privacy by the online environment, especially in terms of the public library. Such risks could be posed by cookies, caching, browsers that store search histories, etc.

From my own experience of using public terminals, I think there's a strong risk of patrons leaving themselves logged in to websites, giving the next patron to come along the ability to access that site in their name. A related risk is users accessing other users� email accounts, when using web-based email such as Hotmail (because of caching, a user could potentially access the inbox of a previous user). This could even allow real-world privacy to be threatened, if the first user�s email address incorporates their name.

More subtly, and more seriously, there�s there's the issue of making patrons aware of cookies and the potential for government or the private sector to monitor their browsing habits, as well as potential for information theft, e.g. credit card details being stolen.

Why is this important? The Internet is a new technology, and one that is not well understood by many (see for example Sturges, 2002). Patrons may not have a clear idea of how their privacy can be threatened online, or the appropriate steps to protect privacy. The global nature of the net may make it difficult to take legal action against organisations that violate this privacy, making it important to prevent this issue becoming a problem.

How can it be rectified/understood? By finding out the level of patron and librarian knowledge of privacy issues, and examining the configuration of library computers to see how they measure up in terms of good privacy practice. By then changing the configurations accordingly.

2. What questions can be asked?

Do public libraries with Internet terminals provide instruction to patrons on how to protect their privacy online?

Do public libraries have technological measures in place to prevent the threat to privacy (automatic page refresh to prevent caching of private information, automatic alerting to cookies, patrons reminded to clear browser histories, etc)?

How well do patrons understand issues surrounding their privacy? Do they have the knowledge to protect their privacy?

3. One sentence to describe study

My study is about the level of understanding of Internet privacy issues in New Zealand public libraries.

4. Find two other sources Provides news stories, resources, research, and tools and tips to protect privacy online.

Gutwirth , S Privacy and the information age translated by Raf Casert. (Lanham, Md. ; Oxford : Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). Examines the challenges to privacy posed by different information technologies, and argues that true privacy is the freedom to choose whether or not to share personal information.


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