What Women Know About the Internet – The New York Times
What Women Know About the Internet The digital world is not designed to keep women safe. New regulations should be.
By Emily Chang Ms. Chang, an anchor at Bloomberg TV, is the author of Brotopia.
April 10, 2019
Like too many women, Ive been harassed online. The harasser described in explicit detail how he intended to violate me, though somehow his threats didnt violate Twitters terms of service. Twitter, despite my repeated reports, did nothing.
So I did. I gradually tightened my privacy settings across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I mostly stopped sharing personal, nonwork- related updates and deleted photos of my children; I havent posted new pictures for more than a year.
Im a tech journalist, so perhaps I am extra-sensitive to the dangers of the internet. But my concerns are widely shared by other women.
Several studies have found that women are more concerned about privacy risks online than men and are more likely to keep their profiles private and delete unwanted contacts. Female Italian college students are less likely to share their political views and relationship status than men and are more concerned about risks posed by other users and third parties. Norwegian women post fewer selfies than Norwegian men.
In other words, digital privacy is a womens issue. We just dont think about it that way, or discuss it that way. Of course, privacy is a concern for everyone, but this is also an issue, like health care, on which women have a particular view. Women know, for example, what consent really means. Its not scrolling through seemingly endless terms of service and then checking a box. Online consent, just as it is with our bodies, should be clear, informed and a requirement for online platforms.
These views are shaped by the reality that women experience the internet differently, just as the experience of walking down a dark alley, or even a busy street, is different for women than it is for men. One Pew study found that women are far more likely to be sexually harassed online and describe these interactions as extremely upsetting. The Department of Justice reports that about 75 percent of the victims of stalking and cyberstalking are women. And so women look over our shoulders online, just as we do in real life.
It isnt just that real-life harassment also shows up online, its that the internet isnt designed for women, even when the majority of users of some popular applications and platforms are women. In fact, some features of digital life have been constructed, intentionally or not, in ways that make women feel less safe.
For example, you cant easily use Facebooks WhatsApp messaging service without a phone number, which many women dont want to share. Facebooks chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has promised to build encrypted communication into all its platforms. Just as important is giving users the option to make their messages disappear, so that if a hostile ex somehow got into your phone there would be nothing to see.
Even well-meaning efforts at dont always work that way for women. Lyfts car pool service shares the registered names of passengers with everyone else in the car. The first name of an incoming passenger flashes in lights across the dashboard, a feature intended to let riders know they are in the right car. A privacy researcher told me that she once jumped into a Lyft shared ride wearing a sweatshirt with her companys logo. The next day, she received an email from a male passenger saying, I found you! Clearly, he had been able to use her first name and the name of her company to track her down online.
What he may have thought was cute, she thought was creepy. Do I have any control over this interaction? the researcher asked. You want control over the self youre putting online, just like you want control over your body. Note to Lyft: Some passengers would be safer if they were anonymous.
With Congress considering whether to draft new privacy regulations, it is important that the specific concerns of women be taken into account now, while the rules are being debated.
[As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Sign up for Charlie Warzels limited-run newsletter to explore whats at stake and what you can do about it.]
10/31/2019 Opinion | What Women Know About the Internet – The New York Times
Californias new privacy law is a case in point: It is a bold piece of legislation, but it falls short for women. In the event of a , for example, consumers in California will have the right to sue if certain kinds of personally identifying information, like Social Security numbers or drivers license numbers, are compromised. But that may not include material like intimate emails or explicit photos. The current iteration of the law is so murky that its not clear whether Jennifer Lawrence, the actress whose nude photos were stolen from her iCloud account in 2014 and made public, would have a case against Apple if a similar incident occurred after the law goes into effect next year.
Californias also doesnt go as far as Europes new privacy legislation, the most sweeping data reform in history. Under the California law, consumers have the right to delete information they personally provide to companies. But if someone else say, an unhappy ex posted something about me online, I would not be able to get that taken down. Under Europes new law, though, I would at least be able to request such a post be removed.
Although womens groups have defended privacy as it pertains to abortion, they havent yet broadly taken up the issue of digital privacy. Among the few to do so publicly is a grass-roots effort called Catalinas List, a backer of the California law. Anything that gives big business an upper hand on individual choices is corrupting the idea of personal choice, freedom and privacy, a co-founder of Catalinas List, Bobbi Jo Chavarria, told me.
Weaker federal privacy legislation could eventually override the California law. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft all contributed money to groups opposing the California law, and last year these companies and Apple spent more than $64 million lobbying Congress on privacy and other issues. Tech companies are pushing for what they want; as the research shows, thats not necessarily what women want.
So what can Americans do? First, we must elect more women to positions of power who can help write privacy legislation. I dont think its a coincidence that two of the top digital policymakers in Europe are women, including Margrethe Vestager, the European Unions competition commissioner, and Elizabeth Denham, Britains information commissioner.
The law, of course, will never be as fast as tech companies. They should build products and services that respect . To do that, these companies need to hire and consult more women. Women hold just 25 percent of jobs across the tech industry and an even smaller percentage of prime engineering roles.
Most important, all of us must start thinking about privacy as a feminist issue. We cannot wait for womens concerns to be addressed. The stakes for us are far too high.
Emily Chang (@emilychangtv) is an anchor at Bloomberg TV and the author of Brotopia.
Follow @privacyproject on Twitter and The New York Times Opinion Section on Facebook and Instagram.
right to be forgotten
privacy by design
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