Magazine article Online

Privacy in the Age of the Social Web

Magazine article Online

Privacy in the Age of the Social Web

Article excerpt

A long with all sorts of new ways for sharing information, communicating, and working, the internet continues to open up new challenges and considerations regarding the privacy of information. For the highly networked, significant portions of their lives are now online: work documents, entertainment choices, family photos, financial records, and a whole trail of miscellaneous online activities. For each new online activity, new privacy issues arise.

Several sides of the privacy issue should be considered by librarians. First, consider what personal information about yourself, your family, and your workplace you consider important enough to keep either completely private or viewable to only a specific group. Second, on the instructional side, consider what privacy issues are important to teach library users. Third, in your role as a searcher, consider what information you may now be able to discover about people based on their online presences.

As more social activities get an ever greater number of people sharing information online and new types of activities stimulate new types of information, you should revisit privacy issues on a somewhat regular basis. In particular, two examples demonstrate much of what is changing in the privacy sphere: Google with its ever-growing stable of applications and Facebook's recent changes to its privacy policy.


As Google moves into more applications and areas outside of search, its potential data gathering ability increases as more people use such services. Several blogs have posted lists similar to Courtney Phillips' post at the e-Justice Blog, "25 Surprising Things That Google Knows About You" (www.criminaljustice

Some of these are obvious, while others only apply to people using that particular service. Some are a bit more of a stretch, such as "When you're going to get the flu." Even so, for anyone using Google for search, email, calendar, health records, and documents, there is a great deal of information all available to a single company.

Before getting overly concerned about Google as the one company with the largest amount of online data about an individual, remember that almost all of an individual's online activity likely passes first through the lines of an internet access provider that can accumulate even more data about individual activities.

Even so, it can be instructive to consider this list of just some of the types of information that Google can gather:

1. Obviously, Google "knows" what you search. If you are logged in, Google can track searches even from different computers, and while Google now claims to anonymize IP addresses in server logs after 9 months, for logged-in users it retains search queries for as far back as you want.

2. All pages that you visit, if you use the Google toolbar and have enabled PageRank

3. All email sent and received through Gmail

4. For Google Calendar users, your schedule

5. What YouTube videos you have watched

6. Financial details for users of Google Finance, Google Checkout, Google AdSense, and Google AdWords

7. Medical records if entered into Google Health

8. Files on your computer for users of Google Desktop

9. Personal interests from iGoogle, Google Alerts, and Google Reader

10. Books you've looked at on Google Books

11. Your address from Google Phonebook

12. What your home looks like from Google Maps Streetview

13. Your current location for users of Google Latitude

The list could go on with an entry for each of Google's services. Some people are also concerned that even without the Google toolbar, Google could track many sites you visit. If those sites are using Google Analytics or Google AdSense, since those programs can send the IP address of the computer being used, and Google could connect that to logins from a specific account. …

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