Issues for Information Access on the Mobile Web

Article excerpt


Although offering mobile services is a tremendous opportunity to expand a library's ability to provide service to its community, the mobile Web is still a new technology and a seamless transition into mobile services is practically impossible. This chapter of Libraries and Mobile Services examines the most common issues and problems that librarians will face.


The mobile Web is a heady place. Users are presented every day with new, more efficient, and better ways to access information anywhere at any time. Library professionals should be excited about the opportunities presented by the rapidly increasing pace of mobile technology evolution. There are also some issues that deserve our ongoing scrutiny as stewards of information and access.


To a certain extent we've all become accustomed to the security issues that face us when using a Net-connected desktop or laptop computer. We know not to click links in suspicious e-mails. We've learned that no matter what an e-mail says, Nigeria has been a republic since 1999 and has not in modern history had a royal family any member of which needs your assistance to liberate their fortune. Unfortunately, we need to anticipate these same security concerns on the mobile Web, though perhaps with more disturbing consequences.

Recently, audits of the Android Marketplace have found dozens of applications that seem to do little but harvest information from users' phones. Masquerading as wallpapers or themes, these apps ask users for broad permissions to access the phone's file system. Unfortunately, even well-behaved Android apps also require this kind of permission, so it can be hard to distinguish the bad actors in the marketplace.

The growth in mobile payment applications like PayPal and Square, combined with social networks like Facebook and location-based services like foursquare, mean that the information available to hackers on mobile devices is potentially very damaging.

First Sale

The bread and butter of libraries for many years has been the first sale doctrine. This is what allows us to purchase books, CDs, and DVDs and then lend them over and over again. The first sale doctrine dictates that creators and publishers have a right to make a profit on the first sale only of their works, and that they have no claim over the proceeds of subsequent sales. We've seen for years now in libraries as we transition from physical to digital materials that first sale no longer applies.

In the mobile realm, first sale barely applies to the devices themselves, which often come with a two-year contract obligation. All the applications, e-books, music, and video users are purchasing and using on their mobile devices are licensed, not owned. For their purchase price, users are granted the right to use the digital file on a limited number of devices and under a specific set of circumstances, as defined by a fine-print End User License Agreement. Libraries may not, under the terms of these licenses, redistribute Kindle e-books or a copy of the Angry Birds game, or a video from the iTunes Store.


While the number and demographics of people who have Internet access via a mobile device are inspiring for anyone who has been keeping track of digital divide issues, the economics of mobile Internet access are frustrating. One reason mobile carriers have so eagerly championed smartphones is that they are able to charge an additional monthly fee on top of the voice plans they offer users. Typically these fees add $20-30 per month to the phone bill per user.

Bandwidth on mobile devices tends to be a fraction of that available to users on standard home cable or DSL service. This has improved in recent years and will likely continue to improve as carriers upgrade to 4G LTE or WiMAX service, but those upgrades will require handset upgrades as well, and may come at an additional monthly cost. …


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