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Penrose Library Blog

Choose Privacy Week 2018

May 1-7 marks Choose Privacy Week annually, but this year it might feel more pressing than in years past, though the privacy issues are not new. The week was started by the American Library Association (ALA). As spaces devoted to providing access to information, libraries have been concerned with privacy since becoming a part of public life in the 19th century, committed to protecting what our patrons access and providing vetted information on privacy to our patrons.

This year the theme for the week is “Big Data is watching you.” For a long time, most people saw Big Data as referring to government surveillance, but with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, Equifax’s leaks, and the proliferation of smart home technologies, there is a growing understanding of the corporate focus on and use of data. Today, personal information is one of the most valuable commodities, but it is largely being collected at no cost, potentially without users consent or knowledge, and sold at a high premium. One of the more complicated aspects of Big Data is that you often do not know what data is being collected about you, where it is going, and what options you have to opt out.

It can be easy to feel like it is impossible to control your privacy and information in the current landscape, but there’s still a lot you can do to protect yourself and your information. One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to do a risk analysis. Understanding how information is used, what privacy you are willing to give up, and what you are willing to do to protect yourself will make it much easier for you to think critically and realistically about your own privacy needs and what you want to do moving forward.

Once you’ve decided where you stand on your privacy, there are a lot of great tools available to you. In particular, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Library Freedom Project have developed many extensions, tools, and guides for even the least tech-savvy users to use easily. ALA has also aggregated a list of tools for you to use to protect your privacy.