Virtually Unused

How accessible is privacy and security software? Though recent research and news reports find that Internet users are taking measures to secure themselves online, a survey completed by the Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America Foundation suggests that public library Internet users may not be as nimble. Looking at Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), OTI found that almost none of nearly two hundred public library Internet users took advantage of this particular tool, and only eight individuals even knew what a VPN was. A majority of these respondents are library “dependents,” meaning they have no alternative means of access to the Internet, and most engage in online transactions that require they input personal data like credit card information, bank account number, Social Security number, or birthdate. Meanwhile, the press and public agencies, like the Federal Trade Commission’s website, routinely advise public Internet users to refrain from such online activities unless subscribing to VPN services. Clearly the message and resources are not getting from VPN advocates to these users. Until new policies and practices focus on accessible solutions that apply to all individuals wanting to go online, security and privacy risks fall disproportionately upon certain kinds of Internet users.

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Bryan Dosono
Kitior Ngu
Ann Arbor