5 things you need to know about digital privacy in the Post-Roe era
Posted by Darcelle P
November 29, 2022
As the world grows increasingly interconnected through new tools and applications, it’s imperative that we practice discernment in the information we choose to disclose online and with our devices. In the post-Roe era, this is particularly important as the Supreme Court threatens to reverse several landmark amendments created to protect an individual’s privacy on and offline.
Since Roe’s reversal in June 2022, there have already been reports of its ramifications on privacy rights, including a Nebraska woman charged with assisting her daughter with an abortion after law enforcement reviewed Facebook messages exchanged between the two.
Though it may seem like the messages you send on your phone or through DMs might be private – tech companies are collecting your data and will share it with law enforcement if asked. And while the ins and outs of digital privacy can seem overwhelming, here are 5 things you can do today to protect your data in the post-Roe era.
- Who’s tracking my web history, and how can I stop it?
- Whether you’re browsing for a new mattress or scrolling through your favorite Pinterest boards, your internet service provider (ISP) can track what you are viewing and downloading–even in incognito mode. Enter virtual private networks or VPNs.
- VPNs block your ISP from seeing what you view and download on and from the internet. There’s no shortage of VPNs available, so do your due diligence and look up reviews to get an understanding of what service(s) will work best for you and your household. Make sure to go with an anonymous, or no-log, VPN that doesn’t collect your web history or store your personal info. Some free or low-cost, no-log VPNs include:
- Cutting (internet) cookies from your diet.
- Internet cookies are small bits of code that companies use to collect information on you, their user. There are times when cookies can be helpful, like when remembering your preferences when you log back onto your favorite site. These are considered “first-party” cookies because they’re stored on the same website domain they’re collected from, which limits the access they have to your information. On the other hand, third-party cookies are used to track user behavior across different websites and are stored on your web browser.
- Some browsers, like Chrome, have pledged to end the use of 3rd party cookies by 2023, but check out DuckDuckGo or Firefox Focus – two popular more privacy-conscious options you can use now. And while you’re switching browsers, it’s a good idea to disable your Ad ID on your phone. Mobile Ad IDs allow third-party cookies to match the data they’re collecting with the right user. Follow the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guide on how to disable Ad IDs on iOS and Android.
- Ditch that old password and switch up your new one(s).
- It might feel easier in the moment to reuse that same password from 9th grade, but reconsider! Seriously, read some literature on how automation has made it even easier for a hacker with enough determination to crack your passcode. If someone has already taken the time to hack one of your accounts, it doesn’t take much more effort to build a script or bot to try and use that password with other commonly used sites.
- Create long passwords with a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Nowadays, many computers and phones will even generate one for you. Be sure to save them to your favorite password manager for extra security and say goodbye to the times you’ve been left stranded due to a forgotten email/password combo.
- Limit the number of third-party app connections on your phone.
- While VPNs, search engines, and password managers provide protection on the web, there’s a lot you can do to limit the data being shared to your apps directly on your phone’s settings. Check out these guides on how to disable or reduce the access of your third-party apps for iOS and Android.
- In a similar vein, consider reducing the number of applications you connect to altogether. While it may seem easier to use your Gmail as a central login for the rest of your apps, you don’t want all your apps talking to each other. Learn more here about how Google shares your data with third-party apps.
- Encrypt your messages from end-to-end.
- Similarly to ISPs and web activity, when you send a text on your phone, your cell provider can see the contents of the messages you send and receive. It’s unclear how long these messages and their metadata are stored by the carriers, but what we do know isn’t great. Along with sharing user data with law enforcement, in 2019, Vice reported on evidence that T-mobile, Sprint & AT&T are selling customer data to third-party aggregators.
- Consider switching your conversations from your phone’s messaging app or any social platforms messenger and download Signal, an app that encrypts your messages from end to end.
As we’ve explored here, maintaining your digital privacy is an ongoing action rather than just a checklist. Whether it’s limiting access to third-party fertility or period tracking apps or moving sensitive conversations to an encrypted platform, you can play an active role in maintaining your digital safety. Stay vigilant, and question how much access your apps and devices really need before just clicking “accept” through the Terms of Service. Lastly, while there are several secure and free options for digital privacy services linked above, take advantage of any discounts as we enter the holiday season.