Privacy and data collection have long been hot-button issues for Americans, and increasingly so since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of the NSA’s domestic spying program, in 2013. And in his keynote speech at the Book Industry Study Group’s Making Information Pay seminar, held May 26 in New York City, Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science, and technology research at the Pew Research Center, detailed just how wary Americans have become: 91% in a recent Pew survey said that American consumers have “lost all control” over their personal data.
“There is a palpable sense that the dynamic of privacy has changed from one in which you are private by default, to one in which you are public by default, and private by effort,” Rainie said, echoing the views of researcher and author Danah Boyd. But while privacy expectations remain “a deeply American thing,” Rainie said, Pew’s recent survey also found that most Americans readily—if warily—share their personal information in a variety of ways.
So what does the evolving, increasingly complex world of privacy and data collection mean for the book business? In a sense, trust has become increasingly valuable—and that is something publishers, booksellers, and libraries, as trusted institutions, can potentially trade on. “Books are synonymous with solitude, and in this crazy, hectic world that has become an ever more precious attribute,” Rainie said, adding, “Just be careful.” He suggested that publishers consider adopting more stringent, transparent privacy policies than other media companies. “People would hope for that from you.”
As for how the privacy and data collection debates will unfold in the U.S., Rainie said Pew canvassed a number of experts—technologists, scholars, “people who are sort of building the Internet”—about their views of future. Their overwhelming sense is that privacy is becoming commodified. “Privacy is no longer a condition of American life,” Rainie said the experts concluded, “and is likely in the future to be something that only the rich will be able to purchase.”
Rainie’s keynote was a strong addition to a BISG program that focused on social responsibility. At one session, a group of indie booksellers spoke of how bookstores can succeed by becoming anchors in their communities; a session on “cause marketing” explored how linking book and author campaigns to social causes can benefit everyone; an enlightening, if technical session was held on making books digitally accessible for the print disabled; and a closing panel explored how fostering more diversity and inclusiveness in the book business is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do for business.