Privacy Matters

In the media black hole of last Friday afternoon, Google issued a mea culpa for gathering personal information, passwords and emails from unencrypted personal Wi-Fi networks.

This revelation was far different from the company’s initial response months ago when they assured the public that there had been no illicit data capture.  In the intervening months, the Wi-Spy scandal has drawn broad criticism from state Attorneys General, members of Congress and multiple foreign governments.

Privacy breaches like Wi-Spy, and Google’s lack of transparency in reporting the matter, are exactly the reason why many GBS stakeholders are reluctant to hire the search giant to be the world’s librarian.

Public interest groups have voiced strong privacy concerns about Google’s potential ability to aggregate and market the personal reading habits of the globe.  In an article titled, “Don’t Let Google Close the Book on Reader Privacy,” the EFF’s Cindy Cohn wrote:

“Google is poised to radically expand its book service, monitoring the digital books you search, the pages you read, how long you spend on various pages, and even what you write down in the margins. Google could then combine your reading habits with other information it has about you from other Google services, creating a massive “digital dossier” about you, your interests, and your concerns. With numerous reports of government efforts to compel online and offline booksellers to turn over records about readers, the time is now for Google to pledge to protect reader privacy.”

The New York Library Association has also weighed in on the matter, citing “patron privacy” as one of their primary GBS concerns.

The bottom line is that most readers assume a level of privacy protections and anonymity when they use resources like a public library.  Google has made an aggressive pitch that they can exclusively fill that role, but revelations like Wi-Spy certainly don’t help to convince the public.

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