Privacy Myth or Privacy Truth? Librarians Promote ‘Privacy Week’ Events to Discuss Online Freedoms


America’s librarians are on a mission. They’re part of a movement to promote intellectual freedom by spreading the word that our privacy is on shaky ground in a digital era.

If knowledge is power, librarian leaders contend, then new technologies are granting access to even more types of information.

But this all comes at a cost, and that’s why the American Library Association (ALA) is promoting events next week to show that new technologies could also mean more surveillance about our Internet habits.

As part of “Choose Privacy Week” – with activities and events held across the country from May 1 to May 7 – the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom has created several privacy myth busters to test how much we really know about our online freedoms. Check out some of the myths and revealing answers:

  • Myth: Online services are totally free.
  • Truth: Many ostensibly free online services are paid for by advertising that relies on the collection of your personal information, including tracking your information searches.
  • Myth: Government surveillance keeps us safe by stopping crime.
  • Truth: Surveillance cameras can help solve crimes after the fact, but rarely prevent crimes.
  • Myth: My personal data is secure with devices that use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, like my transit and ID cards.
  • Truth: Without privacy and security standards for RFID technology, RFID tags can be read without your knowledge or consent, gathering sensitive personal data.
  • Myth: Only people with something to hide need to worry about privacy.
  • Truth: The issue of privacy is not about what an individual has to hide, but what society stands to lose: freedom and control.
  • Myth: Privacy costs too much.
  • Truth: A similar argument was made about safety in the 1950s, when automakers balked at consumer advocates’ calls for seat belts in cars. The Internet is maturing, and establishing privacy norms is a necessary part of making it a safe, sustainable, environment for information exchange.
  • Myth: Privacy standards will impede the free flow of information and make the web less convenient.
  • Truth: The web has proven to have enormous capacity to adapt technologically. It’s our social and political culture that must evolve to offer some form of self-determination about who is allowed to see what information.

New Era of First Amendment Risk

The ALA says it hopes people get up to speed on their rights in an information age, especially since our search behaviors can leave an identifying trail. While most of us enjoy the convenience of having information at our fingertips, we don’t realize the trade off. As just one example, every online search can leave a record of that activity and leave you vulnerable to government questioning.

In addition, an ALA survey shows that 96% of people do want more control over their personal information, despite most companies automatically “opting in” users for online advertising and marketing programs.

Watch this video to learn more about Choose Privacy Week and find out how you can get involved in the privacy conversation today:


Choose Privacy Week Video from 20K Films on Vimeo.

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.