Are women safe on the Internet? Is women's privacy compromised? First of all, Why does privacy matter? A simple answer to all these questions is "Privacy matters because it is my fundamental right but sadly, it's compromised". The safety and security of the Internet impacts us all. We should be able to understand what is happening to our data and have the ability to control how it is used.
From the phones in our pockets to the biometric databases that identify us to government officials, our personal stake in digital security is growing. You can have 'nothing to hide' and still not want to be targeted by aggressive advertisers or snoopers.
Our Web browsing is tracked and logged, online cameras are ubiquitous in cities, and we are welcoming more Internet-connected devices into our homes. We have gained endless daily conveniences and 'free' services from these innovations, but the data they generate is crunched, archived and repurposed for marketing and surveillance.
We face risks now that were unimaginable only a decade ago, and many companies and governments are acquiring and using data in ways that do not have people's best interests at heart. Unfortunately, those we trust to handle our data sometimes fail us.
Privacy is getting compromised all over the Internet world. Privacy compromisation is an essential problem for both men and women.
According to a study conducted by the University of Washington to assess the perception of privacy in a public place, especially where the surveillance is not related to security, 'women are more concerned than men about their privacy, both as watcher and the watched.'
In this blog, let's go through the severe ways of privacy issues happening for the women and will try to find out a solution.
More than 100 million women monitor their cycles on their phones, says a blog in Bloomberg news. Fertility apps /menstrual tracking apps/pregnancy-related apps are too many. The number keeps on growing. I am sure, this helps, but is it safe to use them? The answer is No.
One example of such major issues reported were with "Glow", one of the most popular apps in this market. It had a major flaw that could let anyone who knew a user's email address access that person's data, according to an investigation by Consumer Reports. That's a major concern because that particular app prompts users to reveal a lot, including the last time they had sex (and in what position), how many drinks they've had each day, etc.
Note:- Glow reportedly made immediate moves to fix the security problems with their app and issued an update to their app after Consumer Reports notified them of the vulnerabilities.
A 2014 Federal Trade Commission study of the larger health app market, in which period-tracking apps are a significant player, also found that many of the apps the agency reviewed shared users' information with third-party advertising and analytics firms.
There is no proper HIPAA- compliant apps in the market currently. So, women's privacy is not being protected in this space.
Female Fitness apps/Fitness wearable devices:-
There are so many fitness apps specific for women that are available in the market. Again, is it even safe to use? Absolutely not.
Most of these fitness apps are free to use. We trust them and log our daily activities and even share our sensitive personal health details such as BMI, heart rate, etc. We even log our food intake etc.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations that require patient-doctor confidentiality do not apply to wearable devices or the data they collect, making any device or app that monitors health information risky, said Mark Weinstein, privacy advocate and founder of social media site MeWe.
"Here's the reality of life as a wearable device owner - there's no doctor/patient privacy or patient privacy or any privacy, for that matter," he said. "Monitoring yourself with a fitness tracking app that is collecting data is like publishing your own medical autobiography online. These neat little devices are hard to resist, but I will admire fitness tracking apps from afar."
Strava, which is as much a social network for runners and cyclists as a fitness-tracking app developer, faced scrutiny last year over worries its global heat map - which uses GPS information to map the activity of millions of users - could reveal secret military bases and troop movements around the world. Strava claims they have addressed the issues post that issue.
Strava is just an example, but in reality in the current world, most of the apps are not safer.
There are so many safety apps circulating across with a promise to keep women safer. Mostly these apps take inputs such as location, contact details, etc. to keep women safe.
It became an industry-wide practice to harvest personal data of users and monetize it. But are safety apps doing the same?
Maybe not, but it is ironic. How can apps claim to enhance your safety if they are treating your sensitive personal information with complete carelessness?!. For example, location information, being sensitive data, should be turned off after specific uses, say security gurus. Yet safety apps encourage users to do the very opposite, as their very premise is that users should leave their location information on in anticipation of danger. At the same time, the people who develop and market these apps do not commit to keeping your data safe.
Social media platforms/Multiple digital apps:-
This is one of the most popular platforms where someone loses their privacy. Say for example:- Once we upload our photo on any of our social media websites, the photo belongs to that company and they can even monetize the data.
One more example is: A woman was contacted by a fellow passenger from a Rideshare app who pieced together information from their ride - her name from the Rideshare app and the work logo on her sweatshirt - to find out her work email.
While some harms go unaddressed, others find solutions. 70% of women say online harassment is a "major problem." Deepfakes, revenge porn and stalkware apps are becoming major concerns. These hacks are attacking most of women emotionally as well.
Online shopping websites:-
I am sure, we all must have come across this situation where we have searched about "some celebrities diet chart in search engines" and immediately in our shopping apps, "detox tea" was added automatically as a suggestion.
Professor Ann Bartow of the University Of New Hampshire School Of Law, in Our Data, Ourselves: Privacy, Propertization, and Gender, opines that "unregulated online data collection is a threat to all consumers. Because women do most of the shopping, and most of the "sharing," in meet space, and their presence is increasing in cyberspace, they are most vulnerable to the slings and arrows of online consumer profilers." She further argues that the collection of information online is of "singular importance to women."
This is primarily because women control the spending habits and patterns of their households, making them a special target for the collection of information and profiling based on the data collected. Bartow argues that online data collection needs to be regulated to prevent women from being targeted.
Hacking of personal devices:-
Nowadays there are most of the devices which get connected to the internet such as cars, refrigerators, toys and all manner of devices, and the risks for both surveillance and malicious hacks are growing. In November 2016, a malware program called Mirai mobilized 100,000 connected devices, including webcams and baby monitors, in a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDOS) that briefly took down parts of the Internet.
The hackers mostly attack webcams as well. So many privacy issues are there for women in these scenarios.
There are so many surveys circulating every day on multiple topics and in multiple places. Right from purchasing a dress to eat in a restaurant, everywhere surveys are available. In most of the companies, "Women specific surveys/gender equality surveys " are most common. Are we even safe to answer these questions? Are we sure the results will not be published to all, even though we answered as anonymous? The answer is "No". Anonymous surveys are simply not anonymous.
In a horrendous and bizarre incident involving online surveys, around 6 million accounts were hacked from CashCrate - a site that facilitates users to take online surveys and get paid in return. This breach allowed hackers to have access to accounts that were created as early as 2006. The hacked data included - email addresses, passwords, physical addresses and names of users.
2018 - June 27, the day Spanish online survey firm - Typeform, realized that there was a security breach causing the firm to lose private survey data of tens of thousands of its customers using their platform. Hackers gained access to everything from personal details to email addresses and other private information that has put many survey participants at risk. Reddit, in particular, suffered heavy damage as personal details of its large-scale users' surveys were exposed.
The above are very few examples of where and all privacy compromisation is happening for women mostly. But in reality, there are way too many. Now let's get into the solution.
One would ideally expect that there will be a solution to all the above-mentioned issues in the next-gen internet (Web 3.0). There are few promising solutions available such as "Brave - A secure, fast and private web browser ", "DuckDuckGo- A safe and secure search engine " and several decentralization applications built on blockchain platforms.
One such effective platform is Blockstack. Blockstack is a decentralized computing platform that puts users in control of their data and identity. Apps built on Blockstack make data breaches and trust violations an antiquated notion.
There are multiple alternatives for the above-said privacy application issues addressed by Blockstack DAPPs.
Few Examples include :
Blocksurvey - Privacy-focused, surveys, polls and forms platform.
Compress Studio -A serverless image compression tool with a decentralized private storage.
Some women developers worked on creating amazing apps in the new era of the internet as well. Few are listed below.
Dcasso- Decentralized doodling app
POW!- A secure period tracking app.
Dappity - A launchpad for all Blockstack apps.
Privacy issues are very serious and it's common for both the gender but women privacy issues are more serious and often very critical which affects women psychologically as well.
"If you don't like something, you can opt-out of it" is something we hear a lot in the consumer-facing tech world - whether it's newsfeed spam, incessant push notifications, or location-tagged posts or multiple other apps ".
But this approach is not right. In the digital world, nothing is safer but that doesn't mean women should not come over to the digital world. "Having a safe, secure and privacy-oriented digital world is need of the hour ".
A big shout out to all the women to empower together, explore alternatives such as Blockstack and step towards building a new safe and secure digital world for ourselves and the future !!!