At my Eroticon talk about sex blogging and human rights (slides and audio clips coming soon), I promised a blog post on a topic that most wouldn’t consider to be sexy – ePrivacy. Now, I’m a privacy nerd as well as a kink nerd, so I find privacy issues, law and tech totally fascinating but I appreciate that probably puts me in a minority. However, this isn’t just a niche for geeks to lurk in, it’s actually a really threatening issue for everyone – and especially those of us who would prefer to keep our sex blogger personas separate from our professional acquaintances, family, or vanilla friends.
It’s also a threat to your readers, especially if they are accessing from communities or countries who have harsh punishments for certain types of sexual expression. (I explain that side of it in Part 2 otherwise this post will be ridiculously long)
So this post is intended to spell out the eprivacy threats to you and provide some tips on how to mitigate them for yourselves. I hope it’s useful.
Why even care?
Privacy is the (fundamental human) right to live your life the way you want to, without certain types of interference or restriction. When it comes to data and digital privacy, that’s mostly about two things, which are: how information about you is collected, and how that information is used. Not quite the same as data security, which aims to keep information from falling into the wrong hands; data privacy recognises that even the ‘right’ hands can do bad things if they’re not careful.
“ePrivacy” is what we nerds say when we’re talking about electronic tracking, surveillance, and identification. This might be done to build profiles of you so that adverts can be targeted at you and tailored for maximum influence, or to estimate your credit risk, or to compare you to other people. All of these are legally-allowed and widespread uses of mainstream technology – they just happen to be creepy as fuck and just as easy to use in ways that fuck people up as they are for benefiting the industries that rely on them.
What does it look like?
It’s not just cookies. Cookies are a big part of it, but the least threatening. Cookies can be detected and deleted easily. Problem is, if you don’t get a choice about whether to accept a cookie and don’t delete it after you leave the site, that little bastard becomes a bug on your phone or computer which passes intel about your online activity to someone else – maybe a lot of someone elses – wherever you go.
If you get a DoubleClick cookie, then almost every site you visit will report your visit to Google (because they own DoubleClick), who then makes judgements about your wealth, your ethnic background, your sexuality, politics, likes and dislikes, habits, family/friend/work networks, location…..and then uses that info to sell access to your time and attention. Who buys? Advertisers. They don’t buy your info, they pay to be able to hijack your attention and try to make you behave in a certain way (usually by buying something but also to vote a certain way, to spread particular messages, or some other kind of reaction).
But it’s not just cookies. It’s also sneaky little bits of code on web pages and in apps, embedded images that snitch to a remote server when you open a page, ways to identify and recognise your particular device or software, monitoring where and how email addresses are used, location tracking in apps, harvesting phone contacts, following payment activity…….
….that results in awkwardness like your sex blog persona being ‘recommended’ to your family, friends and colleagues on Facebook, Twitter, Insta, LinkedIn, etc.
If you’re interested in the technical stuff, then HMU and I’ll be happy to explain it as far as I can, but if you just want to know how to a) prevent yourself from being tracked like this and/or b) how to protect your blog from being used for this kind of tracking, then read on.
1. Never accept advertising cookies. You’ll still see adverts but they won’t be based on a worryingly-detailed profile of you. If a site drops these cookies on you anyway, then delete them every time you close your browser (and don’t leave the browser open all the time)
2. Use a tracking blocker. Good ones for non-techies are Privacy Badger, Disconnect.me, BlockBear, Ghostery (in order of recommendation).
3. Have a unique email address for anything to do with your sex writer persona. Absolutely do NOT use the same email address you use for social media, family & friends, retail signups or work. Especially work. Ideally, use a unique alias for every different type of account you have – one for banking, one for shopping, one for friends and family, one for social media, etc etc. A bit of an arse to administer but a stronger level of protection
4. Use a secure, privacy-friendly email provider like Hushmail or ProtonMail (both have free options) for your sex blogging correspondence. Assume that unless explicitly stated otherwise, any other email provider will be harvesting data about your email activity, device, location, etc for advertising profiles.
5. Remove metadata from images you upload to your blog or social media accounts. Metadata is information about the image itself, like where it was taken, on what device, at what time, by what app, who the device belongs to.
6. DO NOT RE-USE THE SAME PASSWORD ANYWHERE, EVER. Use a password manager like LastPass, Dashlane, Keeper, 1Password to generate and keep track of passwords.
The bad news
These are good starts and will reduce the associations between your online sex blogger persona and the other parts of your life, but bear in mind that unless you go to such extreme lengths as using all unique accounts on a completely separate device for your sex blogging activity, and never allowing that device to be in the same place at the same time as your regular phone/tablet/laptop/whatever; you should be aware that Facebook, Google, Amazon, data brokers and the advertising networks will still know that your various online identities all lead back to the same human being.
Want to know more? Check out Part 2: Protecting your visitors