Big Brother in the library
By Simone van Dijk
"If we went to the library together and there was a man standing at the entrance with a camera, who would walk along permanently. What book you look in, what you're looking for... Well, you'd beat that up immediately. At least quite quickly. Now the library is on the internet and the same thing happens. And no one worries about it. Seems weird to me." Aleid Wolfsen - chairman Personal Data Authority.
I find that strange too. And even stranger I find it that schools and libraries don't seem to care about this. Indeed 'that man' watching (I imagine old-fashionedly a man in a long grey mackintosh, with hat, dark sunglasses, notebook and pen in hand) is invited into the classroom. He stands there in the corner, a little hidden behind the curtain, and notes down exactly what book your child is reading, when he read it, how long he borrowed it, where he borrowed it (at school or at the local library), what he liked about it, what your child likes, what sport your child plays, what his favourite animal is, what his favourite food is, what he wants to be later on, what movies your child watches, what apps he is interested in, what websites your child visits, how old your child is, where your child lives, what your email address is, what group your child is in and what school your child attends. Moreover, 'The Man' can combine and link all this data and then draw conclusions from it that are, at the moment, completely unclear to us. And whose consequences for your child are incalculable.
Indeed, many primary schools use The Library at School, a system for managing and giving visibility to the school library. Schools can also choose to link their library to the local library. The aim, of course, is to promote reading. In itself, a great initiative. How nice it is that children at school can go to the library. To 'browse' through the rows of books and then come home with two or more books of their own choosing, so that mum or dad can read them out loud to them, or, if your child can already read, retire to a corner of the sofa with a book.
Heart-stopping fun, until you discover that 'The Man' is introducing your child to some sort of social media unsolicited and through your child's library profile page, finds out all the above-mentioned details about him or her. But not only 'The Man' is watching, the school is also watching, the teachers and the children of the school. All can view your child's profile and reading log. In the reading log, your child can rate books he has read and indicate what he thought of them. The teachers can also see which books or types of books your child has borrowed.
An initiative in your child to go and read a book ends in a walk to the computer and surf the internet and share all kinds of personal information through the library's social media (profile pages), watching movies and apps, or in other words, unintentional and unwanted 'screen sticking'. Worse still, at the same time, your child's behaviour, choices, preferences and interests are also directly sucked in by the vampires of the digital world led by 'The Man'.
Who is 'The Man' and what is he doing with all this data on your child? After hours of study and conversations with school, the library and the software vendor, I simply have to conclude that I really can't find out. I just have to trust 'The Man'. I shouldn't worry so much, don't be silly, don't whine so much, it's all fun and I'm not against promoting reading, am I?
At least 'The Man' stores your child's data on the local library's server. And that's safe, they say. Really, am I supposed to believe this? Which server this is and where it is located is unclear; it varies from library to library. Who the data is shared with and who all has access to it is also unclear. At least data is shared with the National Monitor. The various parties are again ambiguous about which data this concerns. In any case, the National Monitor itself was able to indicate that it was questioning whether it was complying with the law.
Is this all just allowed? No. According to the law, the school must seek your consent if it provides your child's data to third parties. This consent must be unambiguous, meaning that you gave your consent freely and not under pressure. This is already not the case in this instance. Indeed, if you withhold your consent, your child cannot attend the school library.
In addition, your consent must be specific, for a specific processing for a specific purpose. You should be informed about the course of action regarding the processing of your child's data and there should be no doubt about the content and scope of your consent. There is no question of that here either.
Indeed, at best, you will receive a letter from school asking for permission to share your name, address, place of residence and date of birth with the (local) library. The fact that the school then also shares the group, physical group and your email address with the library is not even mentioned. A school's entire student file is sent to the library at the beginning of the year. You are considered to have given your consent to share your child's data with the library unless you return a note to school denying your consent. However, schools should not assume this 'whoever is silent agrees' principle.
You will not be told that your child will have a profile page where your child can share all kinds of personal data. You are also not told with whom the school shares all this data about your child, where this data is stored and for how long it is stored. You are not told that in some cases the login is done through an unsecured connection. Completed logins, namely the login name and password, can be intercepted. You are not told that logins are made using your child's partial first name and date of birth as the username. You will not be told that your child is logging in via a page that contains all kinds of news items that may not yet be appropriate for your child from group 1,2,3 or 4. Nor will you be told that your child will not only search for books, but at the same time for websites, videos, news facts and apps. Moreover, you are not given the opportunity to watch for yourself, so you have no idea what your child is sharing on the internet with the library.
In my opinion, it is simply nobody's business what book my child reads. It is none of 'The Man', the teachers and students and any agencies involved, if any! Your child no longer chooses himself to share with others what books he reads and where his interests lie, if he would want to share this at all. This is decided for him and on this decision he has no influence whatsoever. And that, as far as I am concerned, is an outright invasion of your child's privacy. A right your child has that should not be violated just like that. A right that parents should dare to stand up for and not be dismissed as whiners all the time!