Why privacy matters for women

Four girls holding signs with female empowerments messages

Why privacy is important for women

Privacy is an important right that allows everyone to have control over their own personal information and decisions. It is a fundamental aspect of human dignity and autonomy, and it is especially important for women given the many ways in which they may be disadvantaged without it.

Privacy is essential for women to be able to make their own decisions, to feel safe and secure, and to participate fully in society. It is therefore important that women’s privacy is respected and protected, both online and offline.

Invasive tracking by apps and websites

Most women are not aware let alone comfortable with websites tracking their browsing behaviour and sharing it with third parties.

Cookies and super cookies are technologies that enable websites to track their users. A cookie is a small text file that is stored on a user’s device by a website. These files contain information such as login credentials, preferences, and browsing history, which can then be accessed by the website when the user returns. Super cookies, also known as flash cookies or zombie cookies, are similar to regular cookies, but they are more difficult to delete. These cookies are stored in different places on a user’s device and can even survive a browser’s “private” or “incognito” mode.

Cookies and super cookies are primarily used for tracking users across different website visits. This is achieved by assigning each user a unique ID, which is stored in a cookie on their device. When a user visits a website, the site can read this ID and access the user’s information stored in the cookie, such as their browsing history or login credentials. This makes it easy for the website to personalize the user’s experience, such as remembering their login information or displaying items they have previously viewed.

Cookies are also used for targeted advertising. Websites use them to track the webpages you visit and the links you click on. This information is then shared with advertisers, who can use it to display ads that (they think) are more likely to be relevant to you. However, tracking of the users is a serious privacy concern. To address this issue, many web browsers now include a built-in cookie management feature, allowing users to control which cookies are stored on their device, or delete them altogether. There are also several browser extensions and software that can help users block or manage cookies and super cookies.

Screenshot of a web cookie consent dialog box with all options marked as "Disagree"
Denying cookies preserves your privacy on webstites you visit

Conclusion
Cookies enable websites to track you across different visits and “personalize” your experience.  However the personalisation is hardly ever to your advantage. It is mainly used to gauge your interest or a need to buy a comercial product. As such, it’s important for every women to be aware of how cookies and super cookies work and take control of their usage through browser settings and privacy tools.

Our recommendations:

  1. Delete cookies in your browser
  2. From now on always DISAGREE TO COOKIES
  3. Install and use a web browser with strong privacy freatures ( Firefox or Brave are good examples).

Health & menstruation tracking apps

Sexual and reproductive health are highly sensitive topics and need a sensitive approach to security and privacy. Women have embraced various digital health apps to gain insight into their physical health and reproductive capabilities. However, there are concerns that the highly sensitive personal health data individuals provide to these apps, both intentionally and unintentionally, could be misused in unforeseen ways.

Here are few examples of women pay the price due to lack of privacy. 

  • Marketing professionals know that consumers habits rarely change. But the
    event of pregnancy changes that. Once pregnant, womens consumption
    habits change and marketers look to exploit this. Finding out who is
    pregnant (and how far into the pregnancy) is the “Holy grail” of
    marketing. Even before the internet age, good marketers could tell a women is pregnant even before here friends and family knew. They would track the age of the consumer, her purchases and then boom. A sudden purchase of folic acid resulting in a happiness for the marketers too. A pregnancy means there is a new consumer who spends in average over 6,000(!) EUR from the pregnancy to the baby’s 1st birthday (in western countries). Therefore we have more pregnancy apps than for any other medical topic in the app stores.
  • A recent Wired investigation found pregnancy apps to be providing little realistic
    information about the journey to parenthood. They capitalize on the
    excitement and anxiety of future moms. Manipulating techniques are used to create unrealistic expectations. Some apps were found to serve outright disinformation to sell ads and keep users “engaged”.
  • Users of period-tracking apps and other products and/or services processing health data relating to abortion care are understandably alarmed by the recent developments in the US where an abortion could result in criminal charges.
  • Privacy International has conducted its own research. They found that many apps  transfer your health data to Facebook the minute you open the app. Their data-exploitative algorithm will immediately begin to bombard you with ads on Instagram
  • Some menstruation-tracking apps did not take adequate precautions with the health data that people enter into the apps. Few apps again shared extensive and deeply personal sensitive data with third parties, including Facebook. The danger is that your emotional state and a vulnerability will be abused to push ads for products you probably don’t need.
 

Women must take privacy seriously and unashamedly request privacy and responsible processing of highly sensitive personal data from any business.

Conclusion
Health Information shared with apps is highly sensitive. It is of essence that women are cautious with their sensitive health data and requires extra protections from any provider. 

Recommendations

  1. Get your knowledge from a trusted source. Websites such as NHS in the UK or equivalent in your country have most of pregnancy information you need and will not try to use your anxiety to promote other products while you are emotionally vulnerable.
  2. Delete all unnecessary and unused apps. 
  3. Before installing any health app, review all bad comments.
  4. Check the privacy setting and select the strongest protection possible.
 

Spying partner

It is not ethical or legal for one partner to spy on the other’s digital devices without their knowledge or consent. Such actions are a form of invasion of privacy, and can cause serious damage to a relationship. Sadly the behaviour is still occurring.

I am only spying on her because you can't really trust her."
He thinks girlfriend is cheating on him? He begins to monitor her - and gets
more and more caught up in his jealousy. With dramatic consequences.

Does your partner sound like this? Tweet

There are a number of devices and software tools that can be used to spy on others. Many of them are illegal or unethical to use without the person’s knowledge or consent. Some examples that are easily available include:

  • Spyware: This is software that is installed on a person’s device without their knowledge, and is used to track their online activity and monitor their communication.

  • Keyloggers: These are programs that can be installed on a person’s device to track every keystroke they make, allowing someone to access passwords, login credentials, and other sensitive information.

  • GPS tracking devices: These can be placed on a person’s car or in their backpack, etc. to track their movements and location. Apple’s tag has been used by people to track the whereabouts of their better half.

  • Hidden cameras and microphones: These can be placed in a person’s home or office to record their activities and conversations.

  • Social media monitoring tools: Some software tools allow to monitor social media activity and conversations, even if the the messages are private.

Using these tools to spy on someone without their knowledge or consent can cause serious damage to your relationship.

Recommendation:

  1. Be aware of your privacy and take control of it at any time
  2. If there are trust issues in your relationship, it is important to have an open and honest conversation with them (if you can).
  3. Sometimes it may be worth seeking counselling to work through it or end the relationship. 

Unauthorized access to intimate images

Arms of two people touched each other

Unauthorized access to intimate images and videos is a growing concern in the digital age. This form of sexual abuse involves the sharing of private, sexually explicit material without the consent of the person depicted in the images or videos. The consequences  can be severe and long-lasting, including emotional distress and harm to one’s reputation.

Images and video can be shared on multiple platforms, including social media, chat groups, and forums. Once shared, they can spread quickly and it’s almost impossible to remove from the internet entirely. Moreover, victims are often hesitant to come forward due to the stigma and shame associated with the abuse

The person who shares the intimate images or videos is violating the trust that the person depicted in the images or videos placed in them. This betrayal can be traumatic for the victim, and can make it harder for the victim to trust others in the future.

There have been various legal efforts to combat the distribution of non-consensual explicit material, or providing victims with legal remedies to sue the individual responsible. However, these laws vary by country and enforcing those laws can be difficult, especially when the person distributing the images or videos is located in another country.

It’s important for women (and society as a whole) to recognize the harm caused by leaked images and video and take steps to prevent it. This includes educating individuals about the risks of sharing intimate images or videos, as well as pushing for stronger laws and better enforcement of existing laws.

In conclusion, Unauthorized access to intimate images and videos is a serious issue. It causes severe harm to the individual and their loved ones, not just emotionally but also economically, and is a violation of trust and privacy. Additionally, the process of getting the images removed can be both time-consuming and emotionally taxing for the victims.

Anybody can go look at my naked body without my consent, any time of the day. My trauma will exist forever'

Jenifer Lawrence, Movie star & Victim of iCloud hack

Recommendations to protect your images:

  1. PREVENTION is way easier than covering the damage afterwards. Be careful about giving out personal information online and be mindful of what you post on social media.
  2.  If you are in a relationship, communicate with your partner about what types of images or videos are okay to share, and which ones are not. Be explicit and demand privacy. e.g. if you send a intimate photo, describe clearly that it is for your eyes only, not for sharing.
  3. Also, be mindful of the privacy settings on your social media and camera roll, and only share intimate images or videos with trusted friends or partners. In 2023 we are only starting to enter the age of artificial intelligence and deep fakes. Nowadays a photo of you can easily be used to generate a fake porn or a deep fake image of you. BBC serie “The capture”  will entertain you while showing the possibilities of the new technology.

Digital identity theft

Photo taken from above shows a laptop. Two hands in gloves are typing

Lack of privacy can have broader social implications for women. For example, women who are not able to control the privacy of their personal information may be at a great disadvantage when it comes to online safety and security. In this post, we like to highlight identity theft, online stalking and online abuse.

Identity theft is when a person uses someone else’s personal information, like their name, ID document, or credit card information, to commit fraud or other crimes. It can happen in a variety of ways, like through phishing scams, malware, or data breaches.

A common way it happens is through phishing scams. These are fake emails or messages that look like they’re from a legitimate source, like a bank or government agency, and ask for personal information. If you give them the information, the thief can use it for bad stuff.

Another way is through malware. This is bad software that can steal personal information from your computer or phone. It can collect your login information and credit card numbers and send it to the thief.

Data breaches are also a way for digital identity theft to happen. This is when a company’s database gets hacked and personal information is stolen. The thief can use the information to commit fraud or other crimes. You can check if your information has been stolen using the website Have I been pawned?

 

 

Recommendations to protect yourself from digital identity theft:

  1. Be careful about giving out personal information online and be mindful of what you post on social media.
  2. Keep your devices up to date with the latest security software and use strong passwords.
  3. Your bank or a crypto wallet will never ask you in an email or message for your log in details. Don’t click on links from unknown sources (pretending to be your bank or crypto wallet). Some scammers will hack other people (your friends/family) and you might get a message from them. Watch out for any irregularities such as using a different tone of voice then usually.
  4. Another risk factor for women is that more often than not it is the man in the relationship who sets up digital accounts. He is the one who keeps the access details (log ins for digital accounts). This might be a risk in case of separation and or lost trust.

Conclusion

Women’s privacy is under attack from many sides as it is very valuable. Don’t let your own convenience let you down. I hope this post provides an overview of different threats and helps you protect yourself.

Female Personal data is very valuable. Lack of privacy can cost women easily north of 10,000 Eur within few years.

Many attacks on privacy go unreported. Therefore We love to hear about your experiences. Has your privacy been comprimised? If yes, please leave a short comment.

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