What’s a face book?

Working in a public library for the past three years, I have seen and heard a lot of interesting things. The most fascinating thing for me though, has to be how willing our library patrons are to exposing themselves and their personal information online.  The American Library Association clearly states their devotion to patron privacy in terms of their user information and library records, “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.” But what about the kinds of privacy issues that we don’t have control over, yet are still occurring in our institutions every single day.

I’ve noticed a trend even in the last three years, of an increase in the library patrons using the public computers less and less for any kind of research purposes, and more for social networking devices. Now, of course I’m not the first one to notice this trend, social networking has been around for awhile now, and keeps attracting more and more users every day (there are currently over 500 million Facebook users today). Facebook claims that they are devoted to privacy and that they provide simple and powerful tools that allow people to control what information they share and with whom they share it.  You can see more of Facebook’s privacy policy here.

In April 2010, Facebook came out with a new feature called “instant personalization” which is a way to access your social graph in more places online. Basically, Facebook is trying to “become the web” by linking into various websites and using your information to “personalize” the kind of info that reaches you. Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg explains instant personalization as such:

“We are making it so all websites can work together to build a more comprehensive map of connections and create better, more social experiences for everyone. We have redesigned Facebook Platform to offer a simple set of tools that sites around the web can use to personalize experiences and build out the graph of connections people are making.

This next version of Facebook Platform puts people at the center of the web. It lets you shape your experiences online and make them more social. For example, if you like a band on Pandora, that information can become part of the graph so that later if you visit a concert site, the site can tell you when the band you like is coming to your area. The power of the open graph is that it helps to create a smarter, personalized web that gets better with every action taken.”

I actually stumbled upon this new feature on accident, and it is what got me thinking about this topic. I was playing around on my Pandora account the other day, and noticed that when the Avett Brothers came on, it would pop up a picture of one of my friends from Facebook and say “So-and-So likes this band”. I was so freaked out by this, because I had no idea how it was getting access to my information, and wriggling it’s spidery fingers into my Facebook account. Once I read about this instant personalization feature, it made more sense, but I am still quite bothered by it.

Zuckerberg also commented that “people have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.

Okay, but what about for those of us who are not comfortable with sharing all of our personal information online? They don’t necessarily make it easy to “like” more control over your privacy. Seeing as so much social networking is going on in our libraries, it only seems right to make our patrons aware of certain privacy factors when they go online. I’ve seen and heard a lot of compromising situations concerning privacy occur in my library. People willingly providing their credit card details to untrusted sites or people posting their address and phone number for everyone to see. I feel like so many users are ignorant to the fact that they shouldn’t be revealing so much personal information about themselves, and I feel like it is somewhat our duty, as information professionals, to educate our library patrons about the various privacy issues for when they go online.  Some possible suggestions would be providing a flyer/pamphlet for online safety or to direct them to this site from the Center for Democracy and Technology.  Any other thoughts/suggestions on this matter?

Also, here is an article that I thought you all might find interesting which pertains to the topic of personalizing the web using Google Instant.

-JW

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5 Responses to What’s a face book?

  1. I agree that many users are simply ignorant. I am amazed whenever I heard a news report that people are angry with sites such as facebook for being too public with users information. Of course they are. Why put information out there if you want it to be completely private? I don’t think people think about that fact that the internet is a virtual space where words and numbers don’t just disappear.

    I think the implications that the post brings up about privacy in the library are interesting. It has become such a big deal to keep everything about the patron private, but people are using social networking sites on public computers. That is the very antithesis of private.

    -Lucie B.

  2. (I had the exact same thing happen when I went to Pandora. Scary!)

    I think that privacy is important. Librarians and archivists need to protect our patrons’ privacy as both the ALA and the SAA Codes of Ethics note. I concur that having literature about privacy available for our patrons is a good idea; perhaps, offering a workshop/class about social networking sites would be helpful as well.

    But would this information fall on deaf ears? As mentioned in class, the net generation is not as concerned about privacy as previous generations have been and this could lead to their demise.

    K. Yockey

  3. Allie B. says:

    This is certainly a concern, and I think the use of social networking sites on public library computers is reason for pause. I actually had my credit card compromised in college after purchasing concert tickets from a library computer, which was scary, to say the least. I hadn’t even thought about the implications of using a public computer for purchases, which leads me to believe that most people don’t consider the risks of sharing information on a library computer. I agree that it is certainly within the realm of our responsibilities as information professionals to provide some sort of education for our customers and patrons, in whatever type of library we work in.

  4. Education on social networking may be a good idea. But I think we need to be careful to keep our role to that of education and not step into the realm of dictation. It’s one thing to inform and another to say ‘don’t do this.’ In the end, it is the user’s choice whether or not to share their information.

    Personally, the idea freaks me out. I really don’t want everyone I know on facebook to get updates on the music I listen to or the virtual pet site I play on! Most of them wouldn’t care anyway, but it’s still kinda creepy.

    – J. Cox

  5. In terms of a constructive solution to this dilemma, I don’t know that a workshop would attract the people it would be targeting (people who are more likely to use social networking sites are probably also more likely to be confident enough in their browsing skills that they probably wouldn’t think they need instruction). However, the public library I used to work at had signs on the computer tables that notified patrons of policies, such as the ban on downloading applications from the Internet. Maybe signs reminding people that sharing personal information or using credit cards on public computers puts their security at risk would be best. They would be there for all users to see, and it wouldn’t be prohibitive (saying “Don’t do this”), it would just notify patrons of the risks.
    – J Kolic

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