Public Computers

Thread for discussion of public computers - policies, practices, hardware, software, whatever!

This past convo was interesting to read through, note to self to look if that session was recorded: Week 24: Chuck McAndrew on privacy for public computers - #3 by michellenitto

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yup!!! here’s the recording: Library Freedom Institute 2019 lectures: week 24, Chuck McAndrew on Vimeo


Does anyone know of examples of libraries who have implemented any of the following practices on their public computers? If so I would love to connect.

  • privacy badger or similar extensions on public computer browsers
  • adblockers on public computer browsers
  • HTTPS everywhere or similar extensions on public computer browsers
  • default search engine other than google on public computers (ex. duckduckgo?)

I just shared this on the main LFP mailing list to get some responses. I have personally installed HTTPS Everywhere and DuckDuckGo on public computers at the library where I worked before I started LFP. I was in conversation with my director to get an adblocker installed, but she was insistent that it was “censorship” and then I left the job to start LFP before we completed that discussion. But I think I could have convinced her. The others were easy though, and I made signs about what the tools were, why I installed them, how to get back to Google, etc. Patrons who noticed were always excited about it (and it was an opportunity to talk to them about our privacy programs or 1:1 privacy tech help), and patrons who didn’t care could easily get back to Google.

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We have UBlock Origin installed on our public computers. However, the only way I could make that happen back in the olden days of 2017ish was to agree to have the adblocker installed, but default to it being turned off/opt in, that was the compromise. Which I suspect means approximately no one has ever actually used it.

IIRC there was some fear an adblocker would break some websites/library resources and thus confuse customers. I don’t remember if there was a specific site that was a concern or this was just a general fear. We also had to discuss if it was a freedom of speech /censorship issue(no, imo). Personally, I think the pros far outweigh the cons and ads are far more ubiquitous and confusing.

This post has actually inspired me to bring this up for discussion again at my library, so thanks!

Thanks Tracy. That is helpful to know. Yeah – I actually do have the worry about some of the extensions breaking sites/causing confusion for patrons (and then lots of time explaining for staff). We find signage doesn’t help a lot because (a) people ignore it and (b) lots of language barriers. But worth testing, and an interesting idea about installed, but turned off… might be something to start anyway.

Thanks for sharing it on the list, Alison. Do you know anyone at that library system still who might be game to chat about their experiences with HTTPS Everywhere and DuckDuckGo with me?

I haven’t worked there since 2014 and the whole adult services department has turned over since then, but I can see if the former assistant director has any insight. And also hopefully you’ll hear from some other LFP folks who have done various things like this more recently.

Thank you! That’d be really helpful to get a picture of how it’s been working.

Ah yes the free speech of malicious actors on the internet throwing up pop-ups all over the known universe and auto-playing video on every new page… sigh! I can barely use the internet when I find myself in a browser window that has ads these days! Fascinating (but I guess not surprising, sigh) to me that they considered that censorship, was it partly that whole “depriving companies of their hard-earned ad dollars” angle? Or like the ads were actually essential content that was being blocked?

I’ve come up against the “adblocking is censorship” nonsense repeatedly, and in my experience it tends to be the latter idea – that people actually want the ads and that we’d be preventing them from accessing them. It’s really ridiculous but it’s soooo common, especially from library admin, that it’s something we have to be ready to answer to. We’ll talk about it next week when we talk about communicating about privacy.

Yeah, at my library it was more that people were concerned with blocking any content/taking choice of what info they access away from patrons. Although we totally block porn, and I’m more offended by ads personally. Ha. I also think at this point, now that at least some libraries are less hung up on complete neutrality at the expense of anything else, it might be a bit easier to get people on board with blocking ads.

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Yeah, though even before the whole neutrality thing I’d rather move away from talking about the merit of ads per se and emphasize tracking, privacy, and malware.

Like I’m certainly not going to cut all the ads out of a magazine on the shelf in the name of “adblocking” – and I can see why someone would consider that censorship – but the magazine is not e.g. taking notes about every other site I visit! It’s just not the same!

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I’d rather move away from talking about the merit of ads per se and emphasize tracking, privacy, and malware.

100%, I think that is a critical part of the conversation.

We actually just had this discussion in my IT department, about adding an adblocker/extension to staff and public computers as malware prevention. First concerns were about it breaking websites, but honestly, our firewall/filter does that sometimes, too, and we’d never consider turning that off.

I haven’t really dug into it yet, either on a practical deployment/management angle or educating staff and patrons about it, but I’d love to hear what you learn, Allison. I’d be willing to share how it goes for us, as well.

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Hi! My library has installed privacy badger as a firefox extension on all of our public computers. We were going to install Tor too, but decided not to because there were some security issues happening at the time. I’m not sure if those have been resolved or not.

Thanks Megan! Would you be open to talking more about this, or connecting me with someone involved in the set-up on your public computers?