There seems to be a convergence of stories recently about privacy and tracking lately.  If privacy isn’t dead it certainly seems to be fighting a losing battle while on life support.  Where to start?  There is a report in CNET on Vint Cerf’s statement, “Privacy may be an anomaly.”  The reason for that is the level of detail people are sharing through social media.  Another Cerf quote:  “Technology has outraced our social intellect.”  I find that hard to argue with that concept.  There are multitudes of ways to track people and their habits down to fine details.

An older story in Ars Technica tells that Facebook is working on a way to collect mouse movements.  As the story points out, it’s not uncommon for web sites to track where someone clicks on a page.  That’s one way to determine an ad’s effectiveness.  What Facebook intends to do is watch the mouse.  How does someone move along the page?  Where does the mouse hover and for how long?  Mobile views obviously do not use mice, but tracking in this context extends to tracking when a newsfeed is visible.  My understanding is that the Facebook like button is its own tracking device between sites whether one has a Facebook account or not.

The next item concerns the humble toothbrush, though it is symbolic of the so-called “Internet of things.”  The concept is promoted as a social good in that all of the dumb devices we use will become smart at some point and our interactivity with them will come with new conveniences.  Consider this statement from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff as reported by ZDNET:

“Everything is on the Net. And we will be connected in phenomenal new ways,” said Benioff. Benioff highlighted how his toothbrush of the future will be connected. The new Philips toothbrush is Wi-Fi based and have GPS. “When I go into the dentist he won’t ask if I brushed. He will say what’s your login to your Philips account. There will be a whole new level of transparency with my dentist,” gushed Benioff.

Any marketer would gush over this level of personal detail.  It may benefit the doctor-patient relationship, but who else would have access to this information and how will it be used?  I’m not sure I would be comforted by doctor-patient confidentiality in these circumstances.  I’m sure it will all be in the terms and conditions for the device, or not, at least if the next story’s details are accurate.

A blogger in the U.K. has discovered that his LG smart TV sends details about his viewing habits back to LG servers.  Those habits also include the file names of items viewed from a connected USB stick.  There is a setting in the TV that purports to turn this behavior off (it’s on by default).  It doesn’t work as data is forwarded to LG no matter what the setting.  LG responded to this disclosure as reported in the story on Ars Technica:

“The advice we have been given is that unfortunately as you accepted the Terms and Conditions on your TV, your concerns would be best directed to the retailer,” the representatives wrote in a response to the blogger. “We understand you feel you should have been made aware of these T’s and C’s at the point of sale, and for obvious reasons LG are unable to pass comment on their actions.”

Or putting it another way, we don’t care if you’re put out by these practices.  Life’s good, as they say, depending on who has the power in these relationships.

When I think of Marc Benioff’s toothbrush scenario I can imagine smart devices coming with embedded chips that connect to the web automatically and upload information.  As of now the choice is ours as to whether to connect our devices to the web.  I have a DVD player that is web-enabled though I have not turned on that feature.  My TV set is huge, but also not connected to the web.  My choice, of course, and I may not be typical.  In fact, I’m sure I’m not.

I can predict that there will be a time when a web connection is going to be mandatory for some devices to even work out of the box.  It’s in every marketer’s interest if that came to be.  Or, if I wanted to be exotic, I can predict another pervasive wireless Internet that overlays the one we know and love.  It will just be for smart devices that will connect automatically for our “convenience.”  There may just be enough moneyed interests to make that happen.  Terms and conditions may or may not apply.

Mark

Sounds like a simple question that can be easily answered, right? Well, not according to a review of a recent “report” provided to our elected leaders at their November board meeting. See Membership Statistics 2019-2013 (Numbers as of May 31 of each year) behind AALL’s paywall.

The report includes a table for the “number of entities with AALL members” and itemizes AALL member entities in the follow categories:

  • Law School
  • Private Firm
  • Government & Court
  • Corporation
  • Other
  • Non-Affiliated

A couple of data definition questions. Did any member of the E-board seek clarification about the categories used? For example:

  • Does the “Corporation” category report data just for member corporate legal departments, etc., or does it include vendors?

Whatever it includes, “Corporation” membership declined from 80 in 2008-09 to 52 in 2012-13.

  • “Other” probably includes a couple of library consortia, non-profit, non-library-types but god knows what else. Vendors here?

Whatever this category’s stats capture, “Other” declined from 169 in 2008-09 to 133 in 2012-13.

  • As for “Non-Affiliated,” a footnote explains that the category covers those who “have not indicated an affiliation.”

Does that mean individual human beings are being included as institutions or entities in this head count? It’s kind of hard to draw any other conclusion.

Just the “facts”, please. Excluding the mysterious categories a/k/a “Other” and “Non-Affiliated,” but including “Corporations” under the assumption, right or wrong, that it captures corporate legal departments and the like, total law school + private firm + government and courts + corporations membership declined by 191 institutions, from 1,595 in 2008-09 to 1,404 in 2012-13. That’s only a 12% decline. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Oh wait, that’s about half the percentage decline for similar reporting periods reported in  “Table 5: AALL Libraries Estimated Information Budgets” published in the online editions of AALL’s Biennial Salary and Organizational Characteristics Survey.

There also is a substantial difference in the absolute number of AALL member libraries, institutions, entities, whatever, for similar reporting periods when the above reported stats are compared to stats used to estimate AALL member libraries total information budgets. Compare the below chart sourced with the data supplied to the E-board this month (which includes “Corporations” in the Private Sector category)

aall member entities 08 13

with the below chart compiled from AALL biennial survey data that was reported at Has AALL lost more than 50% of its institutional membership since 2001? (Nov. 4, 2013):

aall member libraries stats

What’s up with this? Hell if I know. I lean toward having more confidence in the committee that has been responsible for collecting and reporting AALL’s biennial survey findings. But  if  the data reported to the E-Board is correct,  then  AALL’s estimated total information budget stats for AALL member libraries are wildly inaccurate,  unless  someone recently decided to count “affiliations” at some sort of internal local level, like, for example, counting each branch office or each functional unit of a law firm as a unique institution, entity, whatever.

— Joe

Oh, wait, that’s the null hypothesis. “Law libraries and their librarians have no value” also demonstrates that thinking or rethinking about value is a double-edged sword. What if the null hypothesis is proven to be true?

From this perspective it is clear that library associations will ignore the null hypothesis by publishing reports that identify value. See for example the FT-SLA report entitled The Evolving Value of Information Management And Five Essential Attributes of the Modern Information Professional (free registration required to download). This recent study identifies the perception gap between executives and information professionals in special libraries and identifies ways the latter group can demonstrate their value to the former group by the means of always illuminating case studies and an equally useful to-do list of recommendations.

And then, in the specific context of law libraries and their information professions, there is this:

The last several years have brought fundamental changes to the legal profession and business of law. These changes have served as an impetus for law libraries to transform their operations and services in varied and profound ways—and it is now imperative that law libraries demonstrate the value they bring in concise, measurable ways.

Instead of attempting to test the null hypothesis, AALL appears intent on spending money to prove the value proposition once someone offers an empirical methodology that only does half of the empirically sound task. For more, see the republished text of AALL’s Oct. 28, 2013 press release (source of the above quote) and commentary at 3 Geeks’ AALL’s RFP on Law Library Value Report.

Frankly, I think value is like porn. One knows it when one sees it by the impact it stimulates. Got a ruler to measure the null? — Joe

Judge Posner made Thomson Reuters’ “Nobel-class” Citation Laureates list this year. From the press release:

The annual Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates study is based on analysis of proprietary data from the research and citation database, Web of Science™, which identifies the most influential researchers in the categories of chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, and economics. Based on a thorough review of citations to each person’s research, the company names these high-impact researchers as Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates and predicts they will be Nobel Prize winners, either this year or in the future.

(Emphasis added.)

Due note that TR’s annual ritual spits out enough names to get it “right” often enough eventually. See TR’s ScienceWatch list of successful predictions.

The Noble Prize in Economics will be announced on Oct. 14, 2013. I’m hoping Posner gets the nod. Then the only way his former faculty colleague at the University of Chicago Law School can one-up Posner is if Scalia is canonized by the Catholic Church. Wait ‘n see.

Hat tip to Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports. — Joe