Protected participation in a networked world

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SMU librarians said web providers manipulate the trust and privacy rights of their users on March 8 in Fondren Library.

Jonathan McMichael, an SMU User Experience Librarian, related internet users and their information as exchangeable products.

“You are a commission. You and your information are commodities that can be bought and sold,” McMichael said. “You should make informed decisions and question what is the exchange of thinking to participate on the internet.”

Jennifer Sullivan, an SMU Science Librarian, stressed the importance of making informed decisions in regards to internet engagement.

“It’s important that you’re equipped with the knowledge to participate as much or as little as you want. Somethings you can’t control, but a lot of things you can,” Sullivan said.

McMichael agreed with Sullivan in that people are not as informed as they could be.

“A lot of people don’t see the value of their personal information. Like their Netflix account log-in information for example,” McMichael said. “Once people see their information as a commodity, they’ll start protecting it like their wallet and privacy could be retained.”

The two librarians also highlighted the necessity of social media usage in today’s world, despite the struggle for privacy.

“You can’t be a member of society today if you’re totally disconnected. It’s just imperative,” Sullivan said.

“Social media allows people to communicate with each other. People give up a part of themselves to be a part of the bigger collective community,” McMichael said. “These systems are powerless if no one participates in them.”

Yaw Bonsu, an SMU employee, said he willingly sacrifices a small part of his privacy on the internet.

“I know doing business and making connections with other people on the internet release some of my private information,” he said.

The librarian duo said the ways in which we want to be perceived change over time. McMichael suggested users have professional, social, and personal contexts over the web and that those contexts evolve over time.

“We all have so many different personas on the internet it can be a challenge to balance all of them effectively,” McMichael said. “You have to play defense against potential perceptions people might have of you.”

Going
forward, the librarians welcomed the attendees to try out new, safer techniques
that would allow their private information to stay private on the web. Using
private browsing mode on web browsers; disabling third-party tracking such as
cookies; Signal, a texting app that eliminates your presence on cell phone
towers; and LastPass, a password manager, are all ways to ensure a safer
digital experience.

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