Thursday, August 10, 2006

AOL Explains Why Privacy Matters

The AOL flub of releasing searches has made me think more about the reasons librarians care so much about privacy. The New York Times tracked down a little old lady who liked conducting searches for herself and friends but is naturally disturbed that her curiosity has now become a public plaything.

And apparently identifying and speculating about the people behind the data is a common sport now that it's out there - see Boing Boing for an example.

I've heard so many people say "I don't care if anyone knows what I'm reading," usually while giving me a look that says "you librarians are so persnickity and paranoid." Well, they might care if they had some personal unhappiness to deal with - and providing information in whatever form to help people out in such situations is what libraries do. Our patrons deserve a chance to think in private.

Though AOL's breech of their customers' privacy is outrageous, it might have given librarians a powerful new example to use when arguing for privacy.

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