Thursday Threads: Advertising and Privacy, Giving Away Linux, A View of the Future

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In just a few weeks there will be a gathering of 25,000 librarians in the streets of San Francisco for the American Library Association annual meeting. The topics on my mind as the meeting draws closer? How patrons intersect with advertising and privacy when using our services. What one person can do to level the information access divide using free software. Where is technology in our society going to take us next. Heady topics for heady times.

NOTE! On a personal note: funding for my current position at LYRASIS runs out at the end of June, so I am looking for my next challenge. Check out my resume/c.v. and please let me know of job opportunities in library technology, open source, and/or community engagement.

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Internet Users Don't Care For Ads and Do Care About Privacy

In advertising, an old adage holds, half the money spent is wasted; the problem is that no one knows which half. This should be less of a problem in online advertising, since readers’ tastes and habits can be tracked, and ads tailored accordingly. But consumers are increasingly using software that blocks advertising on the websites they visit. If current trends continue, the saying in the industry may well become that half the ads aimed at consumers never reach their screens. This puts at risk online publishing’s dominant business model, in which consumers get content and services free in return for granting advertisers access to their eyeballs.

A new report into U.S. consumers’ attitude to the collection of personal data has highlighted the disconnect between commercial claims that web users are happy to trade privacy in exchange for ‘benefits’ like discounts. On the contrary, it asserts that a large majority of web users are not at all happy, but rather feel powerless to stop their data being harvested and used by marketers.

This week The Economist printed a story about how users are starting to use software in their desktop and mobile browsers to block advertisements, and what the reaction may be from websites that rely on advertising to fund their activities. I found it interesting that "younger consumers seem especially intolerant of intrusive ads" and as they get older, of course, more of the population would be using ad-blocking software. Reactions range from gentle prodding to support the website in other ways, lawsuits against the makers of ad-blocking software, and mixing advertising with editorial content.

Also this week the news outlet TechCrunch reported on a study by the Annenberg School for Communication on how “a majority of Americans are resigned to giving up their data” when they “[believe] an undesirable outcome is inevitable and [feel] powerless to stop it.” This sort of thing is coming up in the NISO Patron Privacy working group discussions that have occurred over the past couple weeks and will culminate in a day-and-a-half working meeting at ALA. It is also something that I have been blogging about recently as well.

Welcome to America: Here's your Linux computer

So, the following Monday I delivered a lovely Core2Duo desktop computer system with Linux Mint 17.1 XFCE installed. This computer was recently surplussed from the public library where I work. Installed on the computer was:

  • LibreOffice, for writing and documenting
  • Klavaro, a touch-typing tutor
  • TuxPaint, a painting program for kids
  • Scratch, to learn computer programming
  • TeamViewer, so I can volunteer to remotely support this computer

In 10 years time, these kids and their mom may well remember that first Linux computer the family received. Tux was there, as I see it, waiting to welcome these youth to their new country. Without Linux, that surplussed computer might have gotten trashed. Now that computer will get two, four, or maybe even six more years use from students who really value what it has to offer them.

This is a heartwarming story of making something out of nearly nothing: a surplus computer, free software, and a little effort. This is a great example of how one person can make a significant difference for a needy family.

What Silicon Valley Can Learn From Seoul

“When I was in S.F., we called it the mobile capital of the world,” [Mike Kim] said. “But I was blown away because Korea is three or four years ahead.” Back home, Kim said, people celebrate when a public park gets Wi-Fi. But in Seoul, even subway straphangers can stream movies on their phones, deep beneath the ground. “When I go back to the U.S., it feels like the Dark Ages,” he said. “It’s just not there yet.”

- What Silicon Valley Can Learn From Seoul, by Jenna Wortham, New York Times Magazine, 2-Jun-2015

What is moving the pace of technology faster than Silicon Valley? South Korea. Might that country's citizens be divining the path that the rest of us will follow?