Keach Library Hosts Online Privacy Exhibit

From January 2 through 18, the Nueces County Keach Family Library in Robstown, TX, is hosting the Glass Room Experience, a special exhibition designed to spark discussion about personal data and online privacy.

Glass Room Experience 'The Internet You Don't See' AppFrom January 2 through 18, the Nueces County Keach Family Library (KFL) in Robstown, TX, is hosting the Glass Room Experience, a special exhibition designed to spark discussion about personal data and online privacy. The portable exhibit was created by the Tactical Technology Collective (TTC), a Berlin-based non-profit organization focused on issues at “the intersection of technology, human rights, and civil liberties,” with funding provided by Mozilla.

Many people have come to rely on applications and tools that are free on the Internet, said Crystal Drillen, assistant county librarian for the Nueces County Public Libraries. The Glass Room Experience “showcases how the price we pay is our privacy. The exhibition helps people become more informed about the choices [they make] in their online life.”

Exhibits include tablets preloaded with apps including “The Internet You Don’t See,” which takes users “behind the screen to find out how social media, smart devices, and large tech companies collect and use your data,” and a “Fake or Real” game, which tests a user’s knowledge of current smart devices. A print-based “Alphabet Empire” connect-the-dots game illustrates the vast online reach of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Visitors can even check out a model of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s house. (In 2010, Zuckerberg famously said that people don’t really expect privacy anymore. In 2012, he bought four houses surrounding his Palo Alto home and tore them down to protect his own privacy.)

Those interested in getting back in control of their personal data can check out the exhibition’s “Data Detox Kit,” a guide that explains, in straightforward language, how people share information about themselves as they surf the web, use social media platforms, install and use smartphone apps, and more. The kit’s “8-Day Detox” program—a series of eight step-by-step exercises each designed to take half an hour or less—walks users through topics such as clearing their personal history on Google’s many platforms; reviewing and restricting publicly available data on social media accounts; understanding and setting permissions to make smartphones leak less data; and using password managers, secure messaging apps, ad blockers, and other related software.

“It’s really exciting that [KFL] is leading the way with this” exhibit in U.S. libraries, said Cindy Fisher, digital inclusion consultant, Library Development and Networking Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSL). “There is such an opportunity to add this as an additional piece [complementing] technology literacy and proficiency skills in an interactive, fun way.”

Artistic Origin

The Glass Room: Looking Into Your Online Life was an art exhibit originally held in temporary pop-up retail locations in Berlin and New York City in 2016, and then London in 2017 and Warsaw in 2018. Also funded by Mozilla and curated by TTC, these free-to-visit “tech stores with a twist” featured exhibits that, in part, provided visual context to data and privacy issues. For example, visitors were invited to search through an eight-volume set of books listing millions of compromised LinkedIn passwords in alphabetical order, presenting a tangible example of the scope of a data breach. In another exhibit, a set of sensors gathered basic data about the smartphones carried by pedestrians walking by outside and displayed the information on a monitor.

Last summer, TTC and Mozilla announced the Glass Room Experience, a portable version of the exhibit designed to be “set up by anyone with enough space and a willingness to teach others about online privacy,” according to TTC.

Fisher had been following the Glass Room project for a few years, first learning about the exhibit through social media when it was in New York in 2016. When she heard that TTC was taking applications for the new portable version, she applied in an effort to assess the process for the libraries served by TSL. Ultimately, TSL’s application was accepted, and Fisher thought of KFL as a good candidate to host the exhibit.

KFL was at “the top of my list because, for the past three years, they have received grants from the state library to do really cool technology projects…. The librarians there are so forward thinking, and so passionate about serving their community,” Fisher said, adding that Nueces County Public Libraries Director Ida Gonzalez-Garza was immediately on board.

“Privacy is so difficult to talk about,” Fisher said. “Some people sort of snooze; their eyes glaze over and they think ‘I know I should be doing more, but it’s so hard.' ” A hands-on, interactive exhibit, she said, “seems like a great way of getting over that hump.”

While KFL does not currently offer its patrons a course specifically focused on Internet privacy, Drillen said that the topic is regularly a component of KFL’s computer courses, and staff are prepared to help patrons with any questions raised during the exhibit or afterward.

Libraries and other institutions that successfully apply for a Glass Room Experience are asked to provide three tablets to enable visitors to explore the exhibit’s apps and two large televisions or monitors to display videos and animations (although the TVs are not essential). The exhibit requires about 200 square feet of space, and takes about two hours for two staff members to set up. TTC provides a set of posters; a USB stick with the official videos, animations, and a PDF of the Data Detox Kits; assorted equipment such as sticker strips, a magnifying glass, and a dome; and instructions for setting up the exhibit and training staff to host it and help visitors.

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