Tuesday, March 27, 2012

FTC Works for Consumer Privacy Online

The New York Times reports today on a report, and a call from the FTC for new legislation from Congress, to rein in the huge industry that mines data collected from Internet consumers. The report, "Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change: Recommendations for Businesses and Policymakers," is the result of many comments from people in the privacy consultation business as well as comments from people in the business of selling the data mined from consumers.

The FTC is withstanding pressure from the folks who are making tons of money with your data and mine, to call upon Congress to pass a law, which would allow them to regulate the industry further. It may not be a simple matter of track or do not track... Consumers may simply want more transparency about what data is collected and how it's used. And they may want some say about what data they allow to be collected and how it will be used, not simply ban all collecting.

After all, most of us understand that the targeted advertising that powers "free" websites like Google, depend upon some level of consumer data. And everybody likes "free" searching!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Lexis Shoots Itself in the Foot

I learned yesterday that when students extend their Lexis accounts for the summer this year, they will only get access to Lexis Advance, not to lexis.com. If a student needs access to materials beyond what is available on Lexis Advance, e.g., international law, then we will need to contact our academic representatives to get the student access to lexis.com. If all or most lexis.com content had been migrated over to Lexis Advance, this decision might make sense, at least from the corporate point of view. I can understand Lexis wanting to push students over to the new platform, but I'm not sure this is the best way to do it. Not all content has been migrated, and this is going to create a serious disincentive to use Lexis Advance this summer. For instance, we have a Land Use Law Center here at Pace Law School that hires many student interns to work over the summer; municipal regulations on which they depend are not on Westlaw and they are not yet on Lexis Advance. I already mentioned international materials and municipal regulations, but Lexis Advance is also missing some news sources and secondary legal materials. I can't help but think that this is a wrongheaded decision that will ultimately push students to use WestlawNext. It's also going to create administrative headaches for the reps, who will have to intervene to get lexis.com access for those students who need it. This policy is almost as annoying as the decision to require a new password for Lexis Advance in the first place!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The End of the Print Britannica

The company that publishes the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced on Tuesday that it will no longer offer a print edition of its venerable flagship work, according to an article in the Boston Globe. The Britannica is bowing to reality. After 244 years of publishing a print edition, the encyclopedia is becoming a digital-only publication. The reason is simple: "'The sales of printed encyclopedias have been neglible for several years ... We knew this was going to come,'" says Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. President Jorge Cauz. I have mixed feelings about this announcement.

My father was a Britannica author (he wrote the articles on purpura and other hematological disorders), and this was a source of enormous family pride--it signified that he was the world's expert. The Britannica could have chosen any specialist to write these articles, but they chose my dad. The print edition, in its specially-designed wooden bookcase, occupied a prominent place in our house, and it played a prominent role in my and my sister's education. It was the first place we turned when we had to write reports or get some background information.

I often use Wikipedia for background information but I prefer to verify its accuracy before relying on it. I know that Wikipedia offers some of the same information as the Britannica, but I do worry about who is vetting it. As the Globe points out, "Britannica has thousands of expert contributors from around the world, including Nobel laureates and world leaders ... It also has a staff of more than 100 editors." Wikipedia can't compete with that. On the other hand, as a librarian, I think that reference sources work particularly well in a digital format because they can be updated continuously to avoid obsolescence, and also because they can be accessed on mobile devices, which is a tremendous convenience. In addition, reference works tend not to be read from beginning to end, and do not suffer when accessed in random order.

I hope the digital Britannica will thrive!