Journalism students at the University of Missouri have published a very important report on book censorship in Missouri. It makes for chilling, but necessary reading. Take a look here.
We have often pointed out here that privacy in Facebook is not primarily a matter of controlling what you share with your friends, as Facebook likes to say it is, but what data Facebook has about you that it can sell or otherwise make available to its business partners.
Here is a great link that was just sent my way, to an inventory of all of that data, Facebook’s Data Pool. It is possible to gather this information in Europe, because in the EU they have a wonderful law that requires companies to disclose to citizens what information they have about them.
There is not too much that is surprising in what they have found by doing this, but it is interesting to see the way the data is organized and how it looks from the Facebook side.
Serious case of law envy here.
MiT7 was a great conference – intimate, warm, stimulating, interdisciplinary, and cutting-edge. There were some brilliant minds at work. I plan to post a few comments on the conference later. For now, here are links to podcasts from the three topical plenary sessions:
Media in Transition 7 (MiT 7), a small conference at MIT, is starting Friday and running ’till Sunday. I will be there; if you will be there too please say hello.
Anyone wanting to follow the Twitter hash tag can look for #mit7.
Here is a scary if unsurprising bit of news: a report in PC world on a recent study by Christopher Soghoian: “US Police Increasingly Peeping at E-mail, Instant Messages.” Soghoian’s paper is linked in the article, which begins:
Law enforcement organizations are making tens of thousands of requests for private electronic information from companies such as Sprint, Facebook and AOL, but few detailed statistics are available, according to a privacy researcher.
Police and other agencies have “enthusiastically embraced” asking for e-mail, instant messages and mobile-phone location data, but there’s no U.S. federal law that requires the reporting of requests for stored communications data, wrote Christopher Soghoian, a doctoral candidate at the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University, in a newly published paper.
“Unfortunately, there are no reporting requirements for the modern surveillance methods that make up the majority of law enforcement requests to service providers and telephone companies,” Soghoian wrote. “As such, this surveillance largely occurs off the books, with no way for Congress or the general public to know the true scale of such activities.”
No comment about this or predictions about where the case may be headed or whether there will be broader implications for privacy down the road, except to say to anyone out there who uses an email account set up by a public university: Best to keep as much as possible on your own private email accounts.
I blog about tech stuff only very rarely, but this is something I really want to share. If you’re at all concerned about online privacy, you will want to know about the Network Advertising Initiative’s “Behavioral Advertising Opt Out Tool.” Go to it, and it will show you which advertising networks have installed tracking cookies on your computer. You can check the boxes and click through at the bottom to instruct all of those networks to opt you out of their spying, which they are legally obligated to do. Now, it is also possible to block specific sites from setting cookies on your computer using complicated settings in your browser, but this tool is easier, and lets you opt out of networks that have not found you yet.
To say something general, I would say that it is a good thing that so far we have been able to get national policies set up that allow us to opt out of privacy-compromising systems, and we have to keep doing that, but our right to opt out is meaningless unless we are actually able to figure out how to do the opting-out process, and then go and do it.
Personally, I find it hard to take seriously the claim of some that they “want to see more relevant advertising served up on [their] browsers [or wherever else].” Advertisers never know us as well as they think they do, and when they do hit close to home, it’s just spooky. I am not comfortable when the opaque networked computer that is everywhere with the soft synthetic voice knows what I had for breakfast. There is too much of a potential for power without accountability when we lose our privacy in that way.
There are other useful tech tools for privacy that readers might tell us about in the comments. This is one I like because it is so quick and easy and doesn’t require me to go through ten proxy servers, etc. Some readers may also be able to provide information about the limitations of this tool.
(Be sure to read the comments below if this interests you – Commenters have some important things to add here.)
I just bought a Motorola Droid, which is Verizon’s Android-based smart phone, Android being Google’s OS for mobile devices. Its integration with Google gives me a lot of “power” to integrate my online tools with my mobile device, which is very satisfying. I experience it as empowering, and my attention is focused on learning what it can do and then on using it. My attention is not focused on Google itself and what its growing ubiquity may mean.
I am paranoid by nature, but I don’t have a vision of what Google’s growing power is going to mean decades from now. I know, however, that power corrupts. So I think I should be more scared than I am about the fact that:
- Google records my search data
- Google data-mines my email
- Google tracks my visits to sites that use Google Analytics
- Google is buying more and more websites and services and integrating the data it collects on them
- Google maintains a database of my contacts
- My Droid has a GPS that tells Google my location (I have the option to share it or not share it with friends – thanks for the privacy feature)
- The usability and power of Google’s services compel me to share more and more of my own information with them – calendar, finance, shopping, documents, email
- Google is exploring a service to manage our health records; I think it’s already available in beta
- I can see my house on Google, from the street and from the sky
- Google is becoming hungrier for financial returns. Its ad service is becoming more profitable, but if they can think of more ways of making money from their data, they will.
As I said, I don’t have a vision of the shape that all of this power will take. But it unquestionably adds up to power. Technologically, there is an economy to data integration that lends itself to Google growing larger and making competition more difficult. It is not like a dot com that can disappear when the fickle public notices a different one, because its strength lies in its huge database of user information. It is not so easy to migrate away from Google at this point.
Something to notice when Facebook, Myspace, and other social networking sites address concerns about privacy is the way they focus on users’ ability to control other users’ access to their information, but neglect to mention their own use of that information. When they enable users to set up different levels of access to parts of profiles and sets of photos for different groups of friends, categories of users, and the like, this is supposed to mean that they are progressive in terms of privacy issues, and that we should view them as our friends and see them as concerned about our interest in privacy.
It reminds me of something I overheard when I was temping at a software company in the Silicon Valley during library school. I was in the marketing department of a major software company that had just started adding a web services component to their main product. One of their tasks as marketing people was to make their customers feel secure about the privacy of their data (financial data). The inside joke was, “Oh, don’t worry! We will keep your private data safe; we won’t share it with anyone!” The joke being that they had a lot of uses for it themselves, but didn’t exactly want to highlight it. They laughed about this.
So if Facebook eventually allows users to set up concentric circles of friends with different privacy settings for each circle, remember that Facebook (meaning Facebook employees and perhaps key investors) is everyone’s most intimate confidante, and is open about “monetizing” user’s information, but not about how they go about doing it. (We don’t get to know any of its secrets – it’s not a reciprocal “friendship.”)
I would say that it’s worth pointing out this smoke-and-mirrors game whenever there is new PR from social networking companies about their privacy features….
There is a common assumption that trends should be identified quickly so that we can more quickly and more fully adapt to them, in order to stay competitively ahead-of-the-curve and relevant.
But trends are not all the same. Let me give you an analogy. I have heard of two primary policy themes in response to global warming, which is of course a major current trend. The first, and most common theme, is to reduce our own contribution to global warming as much as possible in order to slow it down or reverse it. This is the Global Warming Must Be Stopped! theme. The other major policy direction, which I have heard advocated only occasionally, is to accept global warming as an inevitable fact, even though we can understand our own contribution to it as a process, and plan to adapt our economies to it as it progresses. So in response to global warming there are people who say Resist! and people who say Adapt!, despite agreement on both sides that it is a process that we have thrown into motion ourselves as industrialized nations.
Other trends are like this, though the balance between the Resisters and the Adapters may be reversed, and the threat to us less acute and less easily understandable.
I point this out in order to counter any assumptions people might have that “trends” are different from “problems,” in that “trends” are good, or at least should be regarded simply as “what is,” while “problems” are bad. We ought to decide for ourselves, thoughtfully, what trends are problems and what trends are blessings, and what trends are, shall we say, mixed blessings.
Among current social trends it is possible to focus on certain aspects, and draw out patterns, relations, and consequences.
So, If we consider as trends:
- The increasingly rapid pace of life
- The shift away from print media towards more interactive, sensory-stimulating aural and visual media
- The tendency to share our lives online, by choice
- The loss of personal privacy, not by choice
- The decline in educational standards, at least in terms of traditionally-valued skills having to do with written texts
- The shift from individualized to collective thinking
- The new ubiquity of communication technology and the 24/7 connectedness that it brings
- The decline in literary reading as a pastime (as noted by the NEA a few years ago)
…then I think it is possible to find a broader, emergent trend that ties these trends together. That trend concerns the interior space of a person.
As we lose our privacy, as our lives speed up and fill with signals, and as we lose time set aside for contemplation, the interior space that belongs to each person is progressively being diminished: shrunk down, grayed out, eroded away, and rendered exterior surface by exposure to the social world.
Interior space is something that people can cultivate. It is cultivated through time spent in sustained, imaginative reading; time spent meditating for greater mindfulness or higher consciousness; time spent reflecting on a problem, on an idea, or on past events; or time spent in another way, as long as it involves a degree of solitude and freedom from external demands. What interior space requires for its maintenance is time, solitude, autonomy, quiet, and a freedom from external sources of stimulation.
Interior space is something that the value of which is by nature difficult to explain, since it cannot be imagined in order to be understood without possessing a share of it. Making it harder to explain is that it is not an object, and descriptions imply objects. Attention focused on an object tends to distract one from apprehending its context, and interior space is more of a context-a place or a way-than a thing, and therefore apprehended differently. The attractions of external stimulation and highly dynamic connection to others are attention-diverting, perhaps in an essential way, and distract us from sensing the space we occupy internally. The difficulty of explaining what interior space is makes it difficult to say what is at stake in its loss or potential recovery. I tend to believe that we will miss it and will put concerted effort into recreating it when it is gone. This is my hope.
We know with certainty, however, that libraries, in being quiet spaces with books, are natural allies of interior space. Few other places are socially-sanctioned as allies of interior space. Religious buildings (temples, churches, synagogues, mosques) and nature preserves are two that come to mind. Museums are arguably another, depending on how one thinks about art.
My point, obviously, is that we, as librarians, should not overlook the value of libraries in their traditional sense, and should not be so quick to treat every social trend as inevitable, unquestionably good, or something that we Resist at the peril of a final loss of relevance.
In terms of relevance, it seems to me that what is making us less relevant is our feverish attempt to duplicate what other people are already doing better: social media, pop culture, and dumbed-down information via the web. We don’t become more relevant by making our identity more vague, occupying others’ shadows. It seems to me that what gives us continuing relevance is that what we offer above all – the means for creating and maintaining interior space – is in increasingly short supply, and is even becoming rare. That is a source of, not a threat to, our relevance.
If people have lost interest in interior space, then we should consider that if in a few years they come around wanting to regenerate it (and things tend to come back around), it would be a bad thing if there were no quiet places with books available to help them do it. The more quickly things change, the more disoriented people become. If anything ought to serve as a source of continuity, as something to come back to, a point of reference and a site for recovery of the self, I think it should be libraries.
You may have seen this already, but I have to share it:
-ElectBarack Obama keynoted the opening general session at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, June 23–29, 2005, while a U.S. senator from Illinois. This article, published in the August 2005 issue of American Libraries, is an adaptation of that speech, which drew record crowds and garnered a standing ovation.”
Media in Transition 6: stone and papyrus, storage and transmission
April 24-26, 2009
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
CALL FOR PAPERS (MIT site)
In his seminal essay “The Bias of Communication” Harold Innis distinguishes between time-based and space-based media. Time-based media such as stone or clay, Innis agues, can be seen as durable, while space-based media such as paper or papyrus can be understood as portable, more fragile than stone but more powerful because capable of transmission, diffusion, connections across space. Speculating on this distinction, Innis develops an account of civilization grounded in the ways in which media forms shape trade, religion, government, economic and social structures, and the arts.
Our current era of prolonged and profound transition is surely as media-driven as the historical cultures Innis describes. His division between the durable and the portable is perhaps problematic in the age of the computer, but similar tensions define our contemporary situation. Digital communications have increased exponentially the speed with which information circulates. Moore’s Law continues to hold, and with it a doubling of memory capacity every two years; we are poised to reach transmission speeds of 100 terabits per second, or something akin to transmitting the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress in under five seconds.
Such developments are simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. They profoundly challenge efforts to maintain access to the vast printed and audio-visual inheritance of analog culture as well as efforts to understand and preserve the immense, enlarging universe of text, image and sound available in cyberspace.
What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture?
What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies?
How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct?
What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private?
We invite papers from scholars, journalists, media creators, teachers, writers and visual artists on these broad themes. Potential topics might include:
* The digital archive
* The future of libraries and museums
* The past and future of the book
* Mobile media
* Historical systems of communication
* Media in the developing world
* Social networks
* Mapping media flows
* Approaches to media history
* Education and the changing media environment
* New forms of storytelling and expression
* Location-based entertainment
* Hyperlocal media and civic engagement
* New modes of circulation and distribution
* The transformation of television — from broadcast to download
* Cosmopolitanism backlashes against media change
* Virtual worlds and digital tourism
* The continuity principle: what endures or resists digital transformation?
* The fate of reading
Abstracts of no more than 500 words or full papers should be sent to Brad Seawell at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Friday, Jan. 9, 2009. We will evaluate abstracts and full papers on a rolling basis and early submission is highly encouraged. All submissions should be sent as attachments in a Word format. Submitted material will be subject to editing by conference organizers.
Email is preferred, but submissions can be mailed to:
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
Please include a biographical statement of no more than 100 words. If your paper is accepted, this statement will be used on the conference Web site.
Please monitor the conference Web site at http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/mit6 for registration information, travel information and conference updates.
Abstracts will be accepted on a rolling basis until Jan. 9, 2009.
The full text of your paper must be submitted no later than Friday, April 17. Conference papers will be posted to the conference Web site and made available to all conferees.
Nanette Perez of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sent out a link to this AOL study on web users’ behavior and statements regarding data privacy. The study finds, unsurprisingly, that most web users say they highly value privacy online but routinely give it up in exchange for convenience or small rewards.
This study illustrates a problem that libertarians pose all the time, and one which deserves an articulate answer. If people say they want one thing but show they want another by their behavior in the marketplace, does that mean we should ignore their expressed values and let the market make our decisions as a society? For example, if people say they don’t want to support sweatshops but keep buying cheap clothes at Target, a libertarian might say, don’t their decisions in the marketplace show their real priorities?
This is why critics call free-market policy directions a “race to the bottom.” People are complex and multilayered. We tend to be at our worst when faced with temptation, which is what we’re asking for when we don’t use democracy to turn our values into regulatory policies. We want free choice, but we recognize that all choices are made in a certain environment and under certain conditions. We want to shape our environment in order to help us make the choices that on reflection we want to make.
I’m with the subjects in this study who want more privacy online but routinely give it up in exchange for the web-based services that I have come to expect as normal. I don’t want to give up these services in exchange for my privacy. I would prefer to regulate industry properly so that my privacy is protected prior to my web transactions. Free-marketers who think that people’s economic decisions reflect their real values are ignoring the complexity of the human psyche. Choices are shaped by the conditions under which they are made, and people want the ability to shape those conditions based on their values. Clarifying our values requires time for reflection that is not usually available at the moment of market transactions, a moment when the value that is immediately present is the good or service and the way it is marketed. If the conditions under which we make economic choices are part of a public market, then the policies we set in order to control those conditions are necessarily social and shared.
So there’s my rebuttal to the libertarians out there, whose party is over right about now…
ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom is engaged in a research project about privacy and libraries. There is a survey to fill out at privacyrevolution.org. I’m not sure where they’re going to go with it, but it’s the OIF and it’s privacy so I support what they’re doing…