Privacy. Pause for a few seconds to think about what that word means. What emotions does it evoke? Are there specific images or moments in time that pop into your mind? Now think about online privacy. Does your definition change? Do you have different expectations for online privacy than you do for offline interactions?

We live in an increasingly technological world. One in which our online lives are complex and interwoven with our offline identities. The lines have become blurred and our definitions of privacy are shifting. With more data being collected about us than ever before and large scale hacks of major corporations and governments it is challenging to feel safe and confident online. Information about our thoughts, behaviors, shopping patterns, and more is collected and sold to the highest bidder. Most of us are unaware of how our information is being used or what we can do to have control over what we share and how to create safe online interactions.

While websites give advice on how to tailor your online identity to be private and secure, they usually offer a prescriptive one-size-fits all approach. Just as we all have unique needs in our offline lives, so do we online. A cookie cutter approach doesn’t address the individual, causing us to become overwhelmed and often do nothing at all.

At San Jose Public LIbrary (SJPL) we know that knowledge is power. With information we have the option of choice and can decide which services we want to use online and how best to utilize them. In January, with funding from the The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we set out to create a privacy literacy tool. This would be a platform which would inform, educate, and also deliver customized toolkits with tips, links, and resources tailored to fit a user’s unique online needs. We worked in partnership with the Teaching Privacy team from Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute to create engaging, powerful, and relevant content which could be understood by a wide range of audiences.

After many months of hard work we’re pleased to announce the launch of SJPL’s Virtual Privacy Lab! The Lab has seven privacy modules covering a range of topics. At the end of each module participants have the option of building a personalized toolkit. Those wanting to get started right away can view a curated list of apps, browser extensions, websites, and more. There is also information about how SJPL and Libraries in general work to protect privacy. Users who want to learn even more about online privacy can drill down with our in-depth article. Content on the site will soon be available in Spanish and Vietnamese. Visit the Virtual Privacy Lab now to level up your online privacy!

ErinErin Berman
Project Manager
Technology & Innovation
San José Public Library