Libraries guarantee patrons’ privacy. That’s why LinkedIn’s policy is so troubling

By Greg Lucas and Erin Berman, Special to CalMatters

One of the reasons communities place so much trust in their libraries is the privacy and confidentiality provided to everyone who uses their services. 

Ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of library users is fundamental to the operation of all libraries. Everywhere. It is an article of faith among librarians.

Like many other states, California has placed these protections into law:

“All patron use records of any library which is in whole or in part supported by public funds shall remain confidential and shall not be disclosed by a public agency, or private actor that maintains or stores patron use records on behalf of a public agency, to any person, local agency, or state agency.”

But protecting someone else’s privacy–let alone our own–is difficult in an age of frenzied social media sharing, not-so-impregnable firewalls, and marketers eager to better target their products.

Most sellers of physical or digital information to libraries respect the primacy of user privacy. To maintain the community’s trust, library vendors must adhere to the same code of ethics librarians employ every day.  

At the moment, LinkedIn, the online business and employment service purchased by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, is violating that ethical code and the policies set forth by the American Library Association.

LinkedIn is creating new usage rules for people at libraries who want to access LinkedIn Learning, formerly Lynda.com, an online learning platform that LinkedIn acquired for $1.5 billion in 2015. 

Currently, when Lynda.com is accessed through a library, a user logs in with her or his library card and a PIN. No other personal information is required.

Under the new LinkedIn Learning policy, library users would be required to create a personal, publicly searchable, profile and agree to LinkedIn’s user agreement and privacy policy before being able to use LinkedIn Learning. 

Checking off the user agreement grants LinkedIn the power to share the information contained in a personal profile with whoever LinkedIn wants.

Representatives from libraries around the country have met with LinkedIn, asking that they respect the privacy rights of library users. To date, LinkedIn has refused to do so, stating that the requirement to create a LinkedIn profile is a security measure to prevent fraudulent access to LinkedIn’s content. 

These new accounts will be subject to an artificial intelligence tool that determines if a person is a real user, LinkedIn says. 

This removes the authority of libraries to authenticate who is a real user or not. 

When asked why a public social media profile is the only option for authenticating users, LinkedIn told libraries that the “library market” wasn’t a significant enough revenue stream to warrant creation of a custom solution.

Bottom-line: The new policy being adopted by LinkedIn Learning, forces patrons to share their personal information to access a library resource. 

Doing so violates every possible definition of privacy and makes it antithetical to the values at the core of what libraries and librarians stand for. No wonder the American Library Association has expressed concern over LinkedIn Learning’s terms of service.

Hopefully, LinkedIn Learning will modify its policy to respect the privacy of library users. Until then, the California State Library and a growing number of libraries across the country respectfully urge the use of information resources at public libraries that don’t expose patrons’ personally identifiable information and keeps their library use free from unreasonable intrusion or surveillance.

— 

Greg Lucas is the State Librarian of California, [email protected] Erin Berman is a division director at Alameda County Library and chair of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee’s Privacy Subcommittee, [email protected]. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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