I looked at a single web page from the NYPL online catalog. I used Chrome developer tools to trace all the requests my browser made in the process of building that page. The catalog page in question is for The Communist Manifesto. It's here: http://nypl.bibliocommons.com/item/show/18235020052907_communist_manifesto .
You can imagine how reading this work might have been of interest to government investigators during the early fifties when Sen. Joe McCarthy was at the peak of his power. Note that, following good search-engine-optimization practice, the URL embeds the title of the resource being looked at.
I chose the NYPL catalog as my example, not because it's better or worse than any other library catalog with respect to privacy, but because it's exemplary. The people building it are awesome, and the results are top-notch. I happen to know the organization is working on making privacy improvements. Please don't take my investigation to be a criticism of NYPL. But it was Code4Lib-NYC, after all.
As an example of how far ahead of the curve the NYPL catalog is, note that the webpage offers links to free downloads at Project Gutenberg. The Communist Manifesto is in the public domain, so any library catalog that tells you that no ebook is available is lying. The majority of library catalogs today lie about this.
So here are the results.
In building the Communist Manifesto catalog page, my browser contacts 11 different hosts from 8 different companies.
The first of these is Bibliocommons. I've written about Bibliocommons before. They host the NYPL catalog "in the cloud". I'm not particularly concerned about Bibliocommons with respect to privacy, because they contract directly with NYPL, and I'm pretty sure that contracts are in place that bind Bibliocommons to the privacy policies in place at NYPL. But since HTTP is used rather than HTTPS, every host between me and the bibliocommons server can see and capture the URL of the web page I'm looking at. At the moment, I'm using the wifi in a Paris cafe, so the hosts that can see that are in the proxad.net, aas6453.net, level3.net, firehost.com and other domains. I don't know what they do with my browsing history.
I've previously written about the NYPL's use of the Bookish recommendation engine. The BTOL.com link is for Baker&Taylor's "Content Cafe" service that provides book covers for library catalogs. I'm guessing (but don't know for sure) that these offerings have privacy policies that are aware of the privacy expectations of library users.
Foxycart is not a company I was familiar with. They provide the shopping cart technology that lets me buy a book from the NYPL website and benefit them with part of the proceeds. I've been in favor of enabling such commerce on library sites because libraries need to do it to participate fully in the modern reading ecosystem. But it's still controversial in the library world.
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We are not responsible for the information practices of these third parties and the cookies placed by ShareThis on behalf of those third parties.So ShareThis turns out to be in the business of advertising. They use your browsing behavior over thousands of websites to help advertisers target advertising and content to you. That scene in Minority report where Tom Cruise gets personalized ads on the billboards he walks by? Thats what ShareThis is helping to make happen today, and the NYPL website is helping them.
|Ad Mall from Minority Report|
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In 1972, Zoia Horn, a librarian at Bucknell University, was jailed for almost three weeks for refusing to testify at the trial of the Harrisburg 7 concerning the library usage of one of the defendants. That was a long time ago. No longer is there a need to put librarians in jail.