Libraries and Google: Who Wins?

August 31, 2022

Google uses various ways to protect users’ accounts, such as authentication through a mobile phone or non-Gmail address. This is a problem for large portions of the American population who don’t have regular access to the Internet. These include ethnic minorities, people with low socioeconomic status, and the elderly. These groups usually rely on public libraries for Internet access. These groups also need welfare and other assistance programs for survival.

Shelly R., a librarian in the Free Library of Philadelphia System, wrote a letter to Google in 2021 about how their security authentication hurts these groups. The letter was picked up by Hacker News and it was meant to be private. Her description of the services her library system provides is typical of many places in the United States.

People say that libraries are obsolete, but the naysayers are not taking into account the people that need Internet access, help with technology literacy, applying for benefits and jobs, and more. Librarians have one of the most stressful jobs in the country, because they are forced into more roles than helping people research: teacher, therapist, babysitter, and more. It is ridiculous the amount of roles librarians fill, however, helping people in their community get access to technology is one thing they excel at.

Shelly R. makes a valiant point that many groups cannot afford expensive technology or know how to use it. They rely on community resources such as the public library for assistance, but security features like Google’s authentication system do not help them.

Online accounts must remain secure to protect users, but people without regular Internet access or technology literacy must be taken into account as well. The Internet is supposed to be a great equalizer, but it does not work when everyone does not have equal access.

Shelly R. updated the letter in August 2022, said she spoke with Google’s security team, and things were better for her job. Is that true? We hope so. If only Google would do more to help equalize Internet access. Hey Google, maybe you could donate money or resources to public libraries? You have the power and ability to do so, plus it would be a tax write-off.

Whitney Grace, August 31, 2022

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