Libraries are increasingly concerned about the ways in which users of library licensed resources are being tracked by the third-party providers of these resources. Efforts such as the NISO Consensus Principles on Users’ Digital Privacy in Library, Publisher, and Software-Provider Systems (NISO Privacy Principles) laid a foundation for library and provider agreements on user control, data security and management, and transparency. However, researchers at MIT, the University of Minnesota, and Temple University have documented the extent of the data collection and capture that is happening on these third-party platforms. There are concerns as well that usage data is being aggregated and feeding into the commercial data sector and also being sold to advertisers and the like. In sum, it is not possible for libraries to provide, in any meaningful way, assurance of anonymity or privacy for those who are using library licensed resources given the current state of user tracking. For librarians, this is deeply troubling given our long-standing commitment to user privacy and confidentiality as embodied in this statement from the ALA Code of Ethics: “We protect each library user’s right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought or received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted.”
This project, funded by the Mellon Foundation, seeks to use the power of library licensing agreements to effect change in third-party platform practices in order to bring them into alignment with library values of privacy, confidentiality, and respect for user control over their own data. It reflects an identified Pathway for Action from the IMLS-supported National Web Privacy Forum. The goal is to develop model license language on user privacy that would support libraries in advocating for user privacy when contracting for services and content. By ensuring that user privacy is contractually protected in licensing agreements, service contracts, etc., libraries would be able to hold platforms accountable for their data practices.