Week 24: Chuck McAndrew on privacy for public computers

Loved this week’s talk from Chuck!

  • What steps that Chuck identified are things that you/your library are already doing?

  • What are some new priorities that Chuck identified that you can get started on?


BPL’s kind of a mixed bag on the three priorities.
We use signage but the privacy policy hasn’t been updated since 2004 (!).
Computers purge previous user session activity but there is no procedure in place for handling paper based data.
The big takeaway for me is, and this kinda a facile statement, is that our tools can reflect our values.


I really really (really) liked Chuck’s talk. There was so much to take in. I really appreciated his point about librarianship as a whole… he said something along the lines of: we (librarians) tend to lock things down more than we need to (YUP - this summarizes one of my main frustrations with our profession as a whole). I think that also really spoke to the two questions I asked about firewalls/censoring content in public libraries (i.e. “illegal” streaming sites, pirating websites, etc.).

ramble: I’m now thinking about Aaron Swartz + pirating project w/ JSTOR materials + how federal law enforcement and JSTOR were able to take him to court because of network traffic/linking his IP address to the illegal activity he was doing on MIT’s wifi network. This case just really makes me think about how the values libraries espouse (in this case academic) are often at odds with actual policies and what we are legally able to do under state law. But also how much money is given to vendors for access to content instead of… making contingent worker/pt workers full time, adequately staffing departments, etc. Capitalism is very bad.

what the libraries i work at are doing:

  • we never put USB drives into staff computers
  • deep freeze - does this purge all downloads? i’m not sure

what the libraries i work at aren’t doing:

  • no Tor browser on public computers
  • no open sessions for computers - on one campus i’m at there aren’t even guest logins.
  • no privacy screens (splash screens)
  • no password managers for staff
  • no signage about best practices/ what using library computers on public WiFi network means for your privacy/security
  • private browsing mode - only on Chrome though, not Firefox
  • no segmented networks. i want to learn more about this.

i’m not sure about:

  • whether or not anti-virus software is used
  • i’m not sure whether or not CUNY uses content filtering software. I’m assuming so, but this hasn’t been communicated to me.
  • adblocking at network level ?? i really like this idea, especially in terms of like the environmental effects of computing. ads are not only bad for our brains and attention/privacy, etc…but also they use a lot of network bandwith

@jtidal maybe you can speak more about the wifi-network login thing that pops up when a student is accessing city tech wifi? What benefits are provided by this extra step? someone in IT explained it to me last semester, but my memory is failing me

one last thing: I think installing plug-ins on webbrowsers would be the first thing I’d do. Not sure if you need admin permissions (probably) if so, I would make a case to IT - with my new found understanding of how to ask the right questions / and approach IT with objectives instead of plans. this might look like, hi - i want to block ads on all public computers - i know it will help with bandwith speed - which plugins for adblocking do you think will be best? do you have any concerns about implementing this? if so, we can work together to try and find the best solution (best adblocker)


yup @ “our tools can reflect our values”

from the way our books are organized to the types of content that gets filtered on a wifi network. visible or not tools do reflect values and impact people’s minds and lives


@jtidal maybe you can speak more about the wifi-network login thing that pops up when a student is accessing city tech wifi? What benefits are provided by this extra step? someone in IT explained it to me last semester, but my memory is failing me

The network login is to check students’ machines have up to date virus software. Our WiFi network isn’t open. It requires an initial 24 character case-sensitive password to connect to the network, then students login with their credentials. Once they login, the FortNAC downloads onto their device and checks if their virus software is up to date. Faculty and staff do this for their wired workstations. It usually takes me 5-10minutes to get online when I first come in.

The public workstations at City Tech library for students have private browsing on default for both Chrome and Firefox. The next image will have Tor next semester. We do offer anonymous guest login on our workstations.

The main priorities I’d like to initiate like Chuck had suggested include basic policy revisions about the security of our networks. I know that our students would probably not read our policies, but it could be a useful tool to advocate for more privacy oriented resources. I would also like to do a privacy audit like Becky Yoose suggested to see what passive information collecting our library conducts and if it is violating users’ privacy or not.

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Oops, I had a lot of misunderstandings about the library we both work in & their policies. Thank you for all the clarification junior!!

~Most of the other stuff I said is pretty true for the community college I’m at though! (unfortunately)

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No worries. As you can tell, we also have a lot of communication problems within and outside of the library! It may be a good idea to have an internal document about privacy tools that we can share with all librarians and staff that work here.

I am really sad to report that I don’t think my library is doing any of this except that all documents that are saved are deleted when the computers are shut down. Well, we do have logins that are not linked to anyone’s identity. They are printed and left on the desk for patrons to pick-up when they choose and they expire after one use.

Even for people who use our WiFi, they are sometimes blocked if our IT department thinks they are doing something suspicious. Honestly, I haven’t been successful in getting a full list of how that determination is made. The only way I even found out that individual’s devices were being blocked is because I was helping a patron connect to the WiFi and wasn’t successful. Since I don’t give up easily, I eventually found out that their device had been blocked by IT. Eventually, I did get a meeting to ask how patrons were supposed to petition for redress without any transparency in what is happening.

This class was very helpful to me in terms of giving me some good places to start negotiating.

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