O Privacy, Where Art Thou?

A violation of privacy

A very disturbing discovery has been made. The software used by the St. Mary’s library, University System of Maryland and Affiliated Institutions (USMAI) libraries, and countless other academic and public libraries to lend ebooks is knowingly violating users’ privacy.

As documented in Ars Technica, Adobe Digital Editions tracks and compiles data on which ebooks users download and read, and exactly what each user does with those books. Worse yet, Adobe is sending that information to its servers in plain text, using unencrypted channels, so just about anyone could access that information. Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader made the discovery on October 6, 2014, but the violation is believed to have started with the release of Adobe Digital Editions 4.0 in early September.

 

How it works

Adobe Digital Editions is used by many libraries as a PDF reader for ebook lending to control the digital rights management (DRM) on all borrowed ebooks. This software is essentially what “returns” a borrowed ebook when the loan expires by removing it from a borrower’s computer. Most ebook publishers require a DRM as part of the licensing or sales agreement to ensure intellectual property rights are not violated by end users.

 

Our reaction

Librarians are furious. As you may recall from when Edward Snowden leaked the NSA’s secrets, librarians value their patrons’ privacy and take every possible precaution to ensure privacy is maintained.  The American Library Association (ALA) has issued this statement and the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) has published this blog post in reaction to the news. Quoted from the ALA statement:

In response to ALA’s request for information, Adobe reports they “expect an update to be available no later than the week of October 20” in terms of transmission of reader data.

Here at St. Mary’s, we will be keeping a close eye on the situation.

 

Update 10/29/2014:

Adobe made available a software update on Friday, October 24th which includes an encryption mechanism so all user data gathered by and sent to Adobe’s servers is no longer transmitted in plain text.  ADE users can download the update (and read Adobe’s privacy statement) here. The American Library Association issued a statement on October 27, 2014 and Nate Hoffelder of The Digital Reader published an update on the privacy breach on October 23rd.

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Popular vs Scholarly articles

I stumbled across a news article this week that was really fascinating (to me), so I thought I’d share it on the blog…and, I’ll mix in a little bit of information literacy as well.  The article is about an experiment performed to see if professional musicians could tell the difference between modern-day violins (costing about $30,000) and Stradivarius violins (costing about $6 million).

Here’s the news article – I’ve linked to the Guardian’s version of the article, but as you can see it’s an AP article which is available on lots of other news sites as well.  The original research article was published on April 7, 2014 in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

These sorts of news articles – ones that are based off a recently-published research article – come out all the time, and provide great examples of the differences between a popular article and a scholarly article.  The version from the Guardian is easy to read, has pictures, and highlights the main points well.  It also has lots of advertisements and links to other catchy headlines on their website.  It has no citations.  It’s fairly short, too – it won’t take more than a couple of minutes to read the entire article.  Now consider it against the actual research article from PNAS.  As you can see, it’s quite different.  There’s no pictures or advertisements, there’s a list of citations at the end, it’s much longer and not as easy to read, because it contains MUCH more detail.

The reasons for these differences are simple – these two articles are meant for vastly different audiences.  The newspaper article is written by a journalist for a general audience.  That same journalist might be writing about the Ukraine tomorrow; on Thursday they’ll be covering the Malaysian Airlines accident.  They’re not an expert on violins or designing valid research experiments, but they are an expert in producing well-written pieces that tell a story and provide a measure of objectivity.  These types of articles are a great way to relax on a bench outside the Campus Center as you wind down your lunch hour, but they might not be such a good idea to cite in a term paper – and again, that’s really not what they’re designed for.

The librarians here at the SMCM Library will be glad to help locate, differentiate, and cite any type of information sources you may have, or need.  So feel free to stop by the reference desk or make an appointment.  Happy librarying!

 

Discovery, but not so discoverable

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OneSearch.  We like it a lot.  It’s the main search on the library website and will give you everything from journal and newspaper articles to books, images and DVDs.  It’ll retrieve anything it can find somehow related to your search terms.  It’s a great tool and time saver.

Despite all the positive things we have to say about OneSearch, we’re feeling a bit frustrated at the moment.  We always knew, and do our best to explain, the results in OneSearch would not include everything which the library owns or has access to. OneSearch provides a service.  It pulls results from the library catalog and databases in one search, on your behalf, so you do not have to search the catalog and databases individually.  In exchange for this service (and in order for this service to function properly and legally) the company which owns OneSearch, EBSCO, has signed licensing agreements with other database vendors and publishers.  The providers who do not agree to such terms do not participate in the service.  We knew about these agreements, always and from the beginning.

OneSearch is accessible from off-campus.  Students, faculty and staff members can search and must only authenticate into the system to access the full text of articles.  Members of the community can search our holdings and view citations, but not access licensed materials.  To borrow a book or read an article, a community member would have to physically come to the library.  This “guest access” is helpful to our community members who rely on our resources for their research needs, and to students from other academic institutions who also use our resources.

Something has changed in the licensing agreements. Now, some of the citations themselves are inaccessible and un-viewable to anyone off-campus unless that person authenticates using a network ID and password.  What does that mean?  Faculty, staff members, and students, have to login before being able to view all the results displayed.  It’s an extra step, but not any different from searching a database from off-campus.  Members of our community, however, can no longer search across our collection and view article citations from the databases while off-campus.  Essentially, OneSearch, which is designed to promote discovery and access, is now limiting that freedom and access and our patrons are suffering because of it.    What to do about it?  We’re not really sure yet.

A Win for Libraries

Have you heard about the recent ruling of the Google Books case?

The case began eight years ago when The Authors Guild filed a suit against Google for violating copyright law by scanning copyrighted books and making them available electronically.  Finally, last week, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin dismissed the lawsuit and issued this (30 page) statement.

Why does this ruling matter?

Accessibility.

Essentially, the ruling judge decided that Google’s efforts in scanning tens of millions of books, which are still under copyright, falls under the guidelines for fair use and is therefore legal.  How is that possible?  By scanning these books, Google provided added value, which is unavailable in print form, by allowing users to search books electronically.  This feature greatly increased the accessibility of the books’ contents, which the judge decided was more valuable than any possible violation of copyright.  In addition, Google provides access to only the most relevant pieces of a text in the briefest form, with outside links to retailers and libraries where users can acquire full text access legally.

Why are librarians so excited?

To quote Ian Chant’s article from Library Journal:

In the opinion issued today, Judge Chin agreed that Google Books is not a place where readers can go to pirate books but a tool to help people find books that may be of interest to them. Chin cited libraries as a particular beneficiary, noting that “Google Books has become an essential research tool, as it helps librarians identify and find research sources, it make the process of interlibrary lending more efficient, and it facilitates finding and checking citations.”

Simply stated, Google Books has increased the accessibility of books, and enabled librarians to do a better job finding, researching and sharing those books with their patrons.

What do librarians love?

Information access.