The Toronto Public Library does many things right, but they also do some important things wrong, and lending Google-provided internet-connected wifi hotspots to poor people is wrong.
Here’s TPL’s news release: Toronto Public Library, Mayor Tory and Google Canada Announce Wi-Fi Hotspot Lending Program. It quotes TPL chief Vickery Bowles:
“We need programs like this one to help close the digital divide. People who can’t afford broadband Internet at home are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to school, looking for jobs or accessing government services and education,” said Vickery Bowles, City Librarian. “Internet access is essential in our digital world. We’re proud to pilot this program and hopeful we can increase its reach in the future.”
Everyone should have Internet access. Absolutely. But not provided free by Google or Facebook or another company that profits by monitoring its users.
The Toronto Public Library is trying to do the right thing, but teaming up with Google is another example of TPL doing something that harms, rather than helps, its users’ privacy. The Kitchener Public Library did it better, even if on a smaller scale, by buying internet sticks and lending them on its own.
Here’s the post from Google Canada’s “official blog,” purportedly written by Vickery Bowles: Toronto Public Library launches WiFi Lending Program with grant from Google.org and the City of Toronto:
Another hotspot borrower is a university student from out-of-town who regularly uses the library’s wi-fi to study and complete his course work. Now, he’s able to access the Internet outside of library hours at home. A hotspot was also borrowed by a single mother on disability who is using the device to submit benefit forms, communicate by email with her caseworker and browse health-related information online.
Touching stories. Of course these folks should have internet access. But the Toronto Public Library shouldn’t be helping Google make money (I realize it’s Google’s “charitable arm” providing the money, but get real): it should be an active, engaged library advocating for the public welfare of all Torontonians, for example by working with the Library Freedom Project while advocating for free city-wide municipal wifi. In the meantime, instead of taking money from Google, it should be buying its own devices and net connections, and making online privacy part of its information literacy work.
If I could get one of those hotspots I’d run a Tor exit node on it.