Incorporating online privacy skills into one-shot sessions

publishedDate09 March 2020
Date09 March 2020
AuthorLauren Wittek
Incorporating online privacy skills into
one-shot sessions
Lauren Wittek
Operating under outdated or eroded
privacy laws, corporations and
government entities have been given
unfettered access to our online lives.
Search engines not only collect and sell
our personal data but also shape our
research by providing personalized
results using undisclosed predictive
algorithms. Information collected by
public or private parties could
impoverish our informational
ecosystem or be used against a student
or professional researcher in
commercial, political, social or
academic spheres. To combat this, I
sought to find free and low-cost tips and
tricks to help librarians spread the word.
The following paper is based on the
poster I presented at the 2019 ALA
annual conference held in Washington,
D.C. (see Figure 1).
Approximately 60% of adults in the
U.S. “do not think it is possible to go
through daily life without having data
collected about them by companies or
the government” (Auxier et al., 2019).
While many people have resigned
themselves to operating in a world
where surveillance is the norm, this
paper seeks to highlight straightforward
ways with which academic librarians
can incorporate free privacy resources
and simple tips into one-shot instruction
sessions. As librarians, a part of our role
is to encourage students to examine
sources for credibility. Why not
promote the same appraisal of the
companies used to gather information
about us?
While many people are quick to
point out that they have nothing to hide
and, therefore, have no issues with
surveillance, protecting one’s privacy is
not about whether a person is involved
in criminal or unethical behavior.
Rather, it is about having the option to
take control of one’s information and
reputation by limiting governmental
and private sector powers. Empowering
your students to at least consider what
their digital footprint is can go a long
way to understanding how personal data
can be misused.
This is important because the ways
in which such personal data may be
used, exploited or merely collected
without one’s knowledge or consent are
not always readily apparent. For
example, popular genealogy testing
companies such as 23andMe have
access to vast troves of customers’
DNA data. This means that they in turn
have access to the DNA data of millions
of customers’ relatives, none of whom
have consented to having that data
shared. Companies like 23andMe have
agreed not to share their customers’ data
with law enforcement without a court
order (Guide for Law Enforcement,
2020). However, the existence of DNA
databases such as GEDmatch – websites
where anyone can upload the results of
a DNA test and which are freely
accessible to law enforcement – means
that a single person’s decision to take a
DNA test and share the results online
can have considerable (and unforeseen)
consequences for the privacy of
thousands of other people (Bala, 2019).
Without a doubt, taking precautions
can feel daunting. There are so many
apps, products, and sites with extensive
legalese-filled user agreements that
most people do not take the time to read
each page before accepting the terms.
Approximately 90% of individuals
report not reading the terms and
conditions – this number increases to
97% for individuals between the ages of
18 and 34 (Cakebread, 2017). In 2008,
two researchers calculated that it would
take users 76 workdays to read every
single privacy policy they encountered
(Madrigal, 2012). Because this study is
over 10 years old, we can only assume
these numbers have increased.
Even if you take all the necessary
steps to protect your data, there is no
guarantee one will be protected. Users
are reliant on these private entities to
not share their information without
consent and protect electronic data from
hackers. Each year, millions of
individuals’ information is made
vulnerable because of cyber-attacks,
such as those experienced by Equifax,
Yahoo and, most recently, Capital One.
It is important to point out that these
breaches are the ones that have been
publicized, but there are many breaches
we may never hear about.
Article VII of the American Library
Association’s Library Bill of Rights
(2019) states:
All people, regardless of origin, age,
background, or views, possess a right to
privacy and confidentiality in their
library use. Libraries should advocate
for, educate, and protect people’s
privacy, safeguarding all library use
data, including personally identifiable
While privacy in the library is critical,
students and faculty conduct research
remotely and need to be made aware of
how their online behavior can affect
Figure 1.
LIBRARY HITECH NEWS Number 4 2020, pp. 15-17, V
CEmerald Publishing Limited, 0741-9058, DOI 10.1108/LHTN-01-2020-0004 15

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