Module 2: Privacy & Information Professionals 

Module Objectives:

  1. Consider online privacy within the filter bubble framework.

  2. Consider the responsibilities of information professionals in relation to privacy.

  3. Discuss how these all intersect.

Note: all links are required reading/watching unless otherwise noted.

Filter Bubbles & Privacy

As you know from Module 1, filter bubbles are created by algorithms that mine your computer and internet useage details for data and then use that data to filter your online experience. Many of the steps users can take to pop their filter bubbles are really steps to protect their privacy and control the flow of personal information. Don't remember? Reread Eli Pariser's via

The highlights boil down to regularly blocking and erasing cookies, deleting your browser history, and going incognito or anonymous when you can. Controlling your privacy settings on social media is also essential. This sounds easy enough, but it it important to remember that the results are mostly temporary and the steps must be repeated periodically in order to really keep your bubble popped and your data private.

But, really, the best protection is awareness. Users, and those who teach in the digital age, must make thoughtful choices about privacy, whether it’s Facebook or a silly quiz (because Buzzfeed is definitely watching) or the Google search box. Simply being aware changes internet behaviors and privacy choices. Read/watch:

Privacy & Information Professionals

So by now you should have an understanding of filter bubbles and privacy and why they matter. But you may be wondering, What does this have to do with me? Well, aside from your personal privacy choices, privacy and library and information science go hand-in-hand. Although not all of you will work in a traditional library setting, let's start with the American Library Association (ALA). First, read their Library Bill of Rights Then, Privacy:

The ALA Policy Manual also says:

B.2.1.16 Privacy (Old Number 53.1.16)
In a library (physical or virtual), the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others. Confidentiality exists when a library is in possession of personally identifiable information about users and keeps that information private on their behalf. Protecting user privacy and confidentiality is necessary for intellectual freedom and fundamental to the ethics and practice of librarianship.

On ALA's Intellectual Freedom page ( read at least three items from each of the top two categories, Core Intellectual Freedom Documents of ALA and Intellectual Freedom Issues and Best Practices. Finally, I know this one is long, but at the very least glance through the questions so you get a sense of what is covered and what issues exist:

After September 11th, The Patriot Act became law in the U.S. In keeping with a long tradition of protecting the privacy of their patrons, librarians fought it, individually and as groups (i.e. professional associations like ALA). Read:

As an MLIS student, you are now or soon will be on the front lines of teaching the populace how to protect themselves and their families. You have the power to shape online personas and maybe even save someone from identity theft. You can also help people find their voices and speak up for themselves, whether it’s to tech giants or Congress. Does this make it sound like school will turn you into a superhero? Actually, a (superhero) librarian, in the most inclusive sense of the word. If you work at a public, academic, or special library, you can help implement policy to protect patron privacy. Read: (optional, watch associated webinar).

However, you may also have the opportunity to educate your patrons about online privacy and behavior. How? Well, a lot of questions that get asked at reference desks these days are actually about technology (how to make it work, usually). So while you are helping someone learn to use their Kindle, for example, you can teach them to turn off their wireless when they don't need it to download a book. Sure, it will dramatically extend the life of their device's battery, but it will also isolate them (in a good way) electronically, since where there's wireless, there's data tracking. For information professionals not working in libraries, there's activism, there's writing or spreading knowledge through social media, and there are always clients or coworkers with whom you can converse or teach.

Further (optional) Reading:

Questions to Consider:

  1. After learning about filter bubbles and privacy, has your online behavior changed? If yes, how?

  2. Can you relate to the findings from Pew? Are you conflicted as well?

  3. Do you agree with ALA's assertion that libraries and librarians have a duty - an ethical obligation - to protect patron privacy? Can you think of an instance where you might have trouble following the guidelines? How might you navigate the personal, professional, and legal aspects?

  4. Look for your local library's privacy statement (for example: What do you think? Is it necessary? Do you agree? Are there points you hadn't thought of or don't agree with? Is anything missing?

  5. What are some examples of opportunities information professionals have to educate others about privacy and filter bubbles?

  6. And, of course, are librarians superheroes? Why or why not