With the acquisition of Lynda.com in 2015 and the launch of LinkedIn Learning in 2016, Microsoft and its subsidiary LinkedIn offered new and improved user experience based on data from both platforms. However, recent announcements around this merger have proven problematic. For public libraries, LinkedIn Learning’s required authentication via a LinkedIn account violates privacy and user data agreements. As librarians, professional ethics include protecting user data and privacy regardless of the company’s intentions. So where does that leave us? We asked a few of LMU’s librarians about LinkedIn Learning and how we can approach conversations about data with users:
As posed by the OIF blog, does the library’s responsibility for user privacy and confidentiality extend to licenses and agreements with outside vendors and contractors like LinkedIn Learning?
Librarian 1: I believe it most certainly does, especially when we have agency in how those contractual agreements are negotiated. It’s trickier with Lynda on our campus, since the library doesn’t negotiate the license for that product. It does, however, give me pause when thinking about how (or if) I would use Lynda in the future.
Do you think the LinkedIn/Lynda merger will negatively impact patron privacy and data use?
Librarian 2: I don’t believe most patrons are overly concerned with their data and rights to privacy until the plethora of emails and robocalls come. Many of us, myself included, often agree to those hidden terms and conditions to us apps, services, and social media daily. We assume this is the “tech toll”, what we must give up to be a part of the mainstream or to make life just a bit easier. For some users, this merger may be easier than remembering two passwords or accessing two different sites. Again, I know that most folks have no idea what they are actually agreeing to when they use these services and, as the library, it is essentially up to us to make decisions about data for them and hope for the best.
Librarian 3: As librarians, we are well aware of the costs associated with retaining data for extended periods of time (storage or hosting costs, labor to maintain it, etc.), and I’m sure a business-like LinkedIn is acutely aware of those costs, too. It doesn’t make any sense to keep your users information indefinitely or as LinkedIn says per its user agreement “until you decide to close your account” unless you expect to use that information later on. So, I would be really skeptical, especially after the 2015 judgement against LinkedIn’s dark UX patterns for issuing email invites to join. As with many companies whose business is built on the data trails created by its users, LinkedIn’s current user agreement is vague about what it will do with its users’ information. This is a smart move for a business but not necessarily for individuals who may want to use their services. The claims this and many other user agreements make over individual users’ information are so broad that we simply don’t know the extent of what we are authorizing them to do with our data when we click “agree.” Will LinkedIn want to alert your boss that you’re looking for a new job based on the tutorials you’ve watched? Will they sell your data to other job boards and search engines that will then “personalize” the job postings you see? We don’t know, and the company may not know exactly the extent to which or the ways in which it will commodify users’ data yet either. Sadly, given this uncertainty, many people may want to rethink the balance of costs versus benefits of using this particular service. For many, it may make sense to leave more distance between these buckets of online activity data— professional social networking and self-paced tutorials for professional development.
Are there any other concerns you have about vendor mergers like LinkedIn and Lynda that libraries should be talking about?
Librarian 1: Advance Publications (Condé Nast) is attempting to acquire Turnitin. Turnitin’s terms of service are already problematic for privacy and intellectual property advocates. I can only assume it would be worse-so under the newly proposed management.
How do we communicate the need for concerns around privacy and data to our users?
Librarian 1: We can begin by advocating for stronger license agreements. We can propose alternative products/services that go further in protecting patron privacy. We can host workshops on how to protect your privacy online. In extreme cases, we can go the boycott route, though that is often at the disadvantage of our users.
Librarian 3: It’s easy to become overwhelmed when thinking about issues of privacy and data because they are so multilayered and bound up with the ways these broader markets operate. Still, I think there’s a lot we can do in our various communities to help one another to keep asking critical questions about these issues and take thoughtful action. Note to Self and Reply All, for instance, are two podcasts that tackle issues related to emerging technologies, privacy, and ethics that have helped keep me informed and changed my thinking on some things. Helping one another find practical ways to mitigate the invasion of our privacy in the digital sphere in our day-to-day lives is important, too. Installing a web browser extension to help limit online tracking and data sharing is one concrete step to take. Privacy Badger from the advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation is one I use now.
For more on the LinkedIn Learning issue and libraries, see our previous post.