Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library

Tue, 02/12/2019 - 8:15am

I read an article online in The Atlantic the other day about a new “smart cooler” that Walgreens rolled out in Chicago last month. According to the article, more of these intelligent refrigerators are scheduled for release in New York and San Francisco soon.

“Smart” in the term “smart cooler” pretty much means spying.

This new cooler automatically snaps a photo of your face when you approach it. I wish the fact that the cooler is taking your picture were the worst part of this story. It’s actually the best.

This cooler is capable of guessing your age and sex by analyzing the photo it took of you. Walgreens is promising that they’re not using facial recognition software to go as far as to identify you from your photo, but in theory, they could.

There’s more. The coolers can track your eye movements, figuring out which soft drink (or whatever’s in the cooler) you’re looking at, how much time you spend looking, and what you actually purchase.

I found the article horrifying, but I’m not sure why. The truth is, my every keystroke is tracked online. Every website I browse, every purchase I make, every article I read, is collected and sold to potential advertisers, along with basic information about me, such as my age, gender, spending habits, and income.

I begin to worry sometimes that I’m crossing over into conspiracy theory territory when I suspect that the phones, iPads, laptops, and Google Home Minis that fill my house are listening to my spoken conversations too.

Then something truly uncanny happens; last month, it was a sick kid and me asking if she wanted a can of tomato soup for lunch (her sore throat go-to). Hours later, what’s on my Instagram feed? An ad for Campbell’s tomato soup.

The internet is full of similar stories.

It’s then that I take a small measure of comfort in our library and our public use computers. That’s the last place I can think of that I can access the internet privately.

My laptop, my home internet connection, and my smartphone all identify me to the companies that want to gather my information. There are steps I can take to make this more difficult or maybe (maybe) prevent it entirely, but they’re complicated, and I’m some combination of busy and lazy.

On the library’s public computers, though, no one knows who I am, so long as I don’t log into any personal accounts. That means if I browse the web from one of the computers in our library’s computer room without logging into my Gmail, Yahoo!, Amazon, iCloud, Facebook, or any other personally identifying account, no one out there knows it’s me using the computer. And if they don’t know it’s me, they can’t track what I’m doing.

That means I can shop for a new refrigerator without getting ads for them for the next month; I can research seasonal depression without worrying that one day that will affect my insurance premiums (yes, health insurance companies are among those buying your personal information); and I can shop for Christmas presents for my kids without pop-up ads spoiling their surprises.

The library will always do what we can to safeguard your anonymity, because privacy is as fundamental to what we do as HIPPA regulations are to health care workers. That’s why you hear the shredder running constantly behind the desk, and why we can’t tell you if you’ve checked a certain book out before. We’re not keeping track of your information.

We operate under the maxim that there is no intellectual freedom without privacy.

For more information about how libraries are fighting to protect your privacy, visit

Upcoming events

Vacation Special: PJ Movie Night! Wednesday, Feb. 20, 5-7 p.m.  Come in clad in your PJs and watch “Smallfoot”(2018) with us. Popcorn will be served!

Drop-In Lego Bonanza: Construction and snacks, Feb. 19-23, noon-4 p.m. Children’s Room.

Student Art Show: Drop in to the Children’s Room to create a masterpiece for our March-April art show. This year’s theme is Our Favorite Faces. Supplies for creating will be set out through Feb. 28.

So Near & So Far Book Group: Saturday, March 2, 10:30 a.m.-noon, “The Chase” by Alejo Carpentier. Great Room.