Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Do (No) Evil

Annalee Newitz, Alternet's "surly media nerd," compares the evils of Microsoft and Google - and concludes they're both creepy. As we discussed here earlier, she believes their defense of privacy is more a protection of their own trade secrets. And she concludes, as many have, that the best way to defend privacy is to avoid collecting all that information about our search habits in the first place.



Alec said...

I attended the Libraries' Future Forum yesterday. Both of the speakers (one a VP for a major OPAC vendor and the other a public library director) said that privacy is overrated. The public library director claimed that, today, "users prefer convenience over privacy." One example of this convenience is users being able to see their check-out history, something the libraries typically purge on a regular basis. The VP had some harsher words, arguing that libraries have taken away users' right to choose how they want their information used. Users, he said, should be given choices about what can be done with their information, with librarians providing them information about what could be done with such data so that users can make informed decisions. Our users, the VP claimed, are adults.

Indeed, they are. While speakers' words were provocative, most of the people I talked to after the conference disagreed. Librarians have in the past been accused of being privacy fanatics, but in an age where our personal liberties are being stripped away without our consent in the name of "national security," someone needs to stand up and preserve what rights we still have. My friends and I still feel that the Fourth Amendment means something; we are disturbed that there has not been more public outrage over the whole NSA wiretapping program. Also, whenever I hear people say, "I have nothing to hide, the government or whoever can look at all of my records," I think back to that classic dystopia novel 1984. That book is one of few that actually frightened and disturbed me.

Barbara said...

We're living in a very interesting time when it comes to information. I agree that the vendor and director are wrong, wrong, wrong to say privacy is overrated. I think it's not well understood by many of the public why privacy is a condition for freedom of inquiry and they have grown all too used to their privacy being violated by corporations routinely. When a corporation can get detailed information about what you buy, what you earn, and what you spend your time on, what you check out of the library seems not so important. We're defending a principle that has been surrendered in too many areas of our lives. I wish we could do a better job of connecting this issue with the wider issues. Amending the PATRIOT act so that libraries get a teeny bit of dispensation doesn't cut it.

The news this week is chock full of information issues: in the New York Times a former CIA official is saying prewar intelligence was distorted to sell the war, republicans in congress are complaining the president failed to share information about a program that is dubiously legal (read: illegal), the former FEMA director complains he passed information about impending disater along and it was ignored, and the Christian Science Monitor reports that TIA is alive and well and living in the Department of Homeland Security under an assumed name.

Maybe it's an occupational hazard, but everywhere I look, I see an information ethics conundrum.

Laura said...

This may be old news to most of you, but in her blog, The Shifted Librarian, Jenny Levine posted notes from a lecture given by Ed Valauskas entitled "The Googlization of Libraries: Debunking the Internet Godzilla Myth."

Apparently he listed off the following hypothetical timeline if Google's success continues:

federal court rules in favor of Google and against Agence France Press to allow Google harvesting of headlines, leads, and photos as factual and not subject to copyright
Google announces Gbrowser, Gdisk, Glink, Gmil/Gmille (micropayments), & Gporta-book (digital paper from Fujitsu)
2007: Microsoft and Yahoo concede search market to Google, Yahoo YouToo social networking program, Supreme Court supports Google against AFP
2008: European Community announces that the following libraries are totally online – France, Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania
Google Book Search has 10 million books and journal articles
Oopen Content Alliance gives away content; iPod with software called “The Librarian”
2009: Second Life adds OCA and EC content; “Virtual Library Association” (aka Avatar Librarian Association)
– information mechanics, avatar reference, social networking, avatar creation offered at library schools
2010: 94% of all government information is born digital; all of it is available for free online or on government issued storage devices; last printed document appears on First Monday in July, 2010
2011: library school dean of closing school says study avatars instead
2012: newspapers go offline, journalism schools are closing, libraries are empty, Apple sells 50 million iNodes
2013: 80 million avatars, libraries are online only, users online 8.4 hours/day, print available to the wealthy
2014: Google acquires Amazon, OCLC, RLG, San Jose Mercury News, and US GPO = forming Ginfo
2015: Libraries close, print is sold on ebay; Michael Gorman reminds us from his blog that he warned librarianship of the dangers of digitization; “only the bloggers really cared about what I said”

Depressing thoughts, yes, but Valauskas ended his talk with reasons why Google is doing the world of libraries some large favors, not the least of which is reducing storage costs and increasing demand for digitalization. Jenny notes how he stated that the truth is that digitization promotes print works. The closing thought of her notes is that "in the end, Godzilla Google is really on our side."

I wonder how far that is taking the notion?

Barbara said...

I tend to agree with Valauskas that Google is doing good things for libraries (not least that it made it easier for librarians to find things on the Internet) but the idea that their digitization project will save libraries the trouble is a little premature. Jessamyn West posted a report from someone who heard a speech by a Google official who said they aren't trying for archival quality - and that each page is likely contain on average one error; more dismaying is the news that pages may be skipped. This seems not to be quite what the University of Michagan expected when they requested a copy of each book scanned for preservation purposes.