Monday, August 03, 2009

Libraries and reader privacy - critical juncture / take action


Libraries have always respected reader privacy as essential to one's freedom to read. If someone is looking over your shoulder, you might not pick up that book on gay stories, witchcraft, communism or whatever the taboo topic du jour happens to be. Libraries require either patron consent or actual legal process before disclosing patron records.

Fast forward to reading books online via Google Book Search. Fabulous new life for old books, but where in the complex proposed settlement agreement between Google and the publishers are reader privacy guarantees? I'll save you the pain of looking. Nowhere.

Every time you go online, you leave digital tracks, and with the settlement, you will generally need to authenticate yourself before viewing the out-of-print but in-copyright books at issue.

The final contours are not yet set. The settlement is not yet in effect. It's time now to take action to make sure we build some privacy safeguards in. The ACLU of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Berkeley's Samuelson Clinic have joined in a letter to Google, requesting:

1- Protection against disclosure
2- Limited tracking
3- User control
4- User transparency

Our library users will be reading google books inside the library as well as at home/work. If a reader borrows a book from the library, we protect her privacy. If she reads the same book on our computer terminals, she needs the same protection.

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