Laura Zinger and 20K films produced a 20 minute long video about the importance of privacy as part of the ALA’s privacy week. The video goes through what privacy really means, facebook privacy, the USA Patriot Act, and other topics with interviews from outgoing ALA president Camila Alire, authors Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman, and random library users/students/kids.
Why is privacy an important value for librarians? Ultimately it has to do with intellectual freedom. Free as in speech. We cannot be free to pursue intellectual achievements if we are hamstrung by the fear that our work is not private. Example: say someone is doing a scholarly work on how the presence of anarchist sentiment online is affecting kids in some way. I’m pretty sure he/she would like to feel that his/her Google searches and catalog searches are private. Otherwise someone could get the wrong idea reading a log of searches for “how to build a pipe bomb,” “where to find illegal weapons,” and “anarchy.” Another example: what if I am breaking ground on some scientific breakthrough, but someone else has access to some logs or other information that I want private and finishes my work before me. He gets the credit. I just get screwed. That really puts a damper on intellectual pursuits, doesn’t it?
The video also talks a lot about Facebook and other online privacy. The best quote from the whole thing belongs to Cory Doctorow of Maker and BoingBoing. He says that Facebook offers an “intermittent social reward for foolish behavior.” Classic! This leads to another librarian value: information literacy. A lot of the “problems” people have with Facebook could be circumvented by simply knowing all the implications of having any sort of information on it and available. Some people don’t know who can access what on their Facebook (to be fair, Facebook has been making it hard to keep these things straight). Some people don’t realize that some things you post can have a negative influence on current AND future life. Drunken escapades can hurt your chance of getting a job, regardless of how qualified and competent you are normally. This is the kind of baseline knowledge that you just HAVE to know.
This talk of Facebook privacy reminds me of something that my instructor for my Introduction to Library Science class said. She told us that our generation sees privacy differently from hers. I tend to agree. We are not living under the specter of the cold war. Sputnik isn’t spying on us. And many of us wouldn’t care if Sputnik was. The amount of information we choose to post reflects the lack of institutional fear that pervaded previous generations. To us, “loose lips” do not sink ships. People were so afraid of the government, or advertisers getting their information. Frankly, I’m not really. I don’t really mind Yelp or Microsoft having information about me. Why? Because they will be using it to improve services. Yelp will know better how to recommend restaurants. Microsoft will improve Word and PowerPoint. That’s not a bad deal to me. I still keep a lot of my information (like my phone number) private. But I think that I do see privacy and information differently from my parents.