January 28th is internationally recognized as Data Privacy Day. This day began as, and continues to be, a way to create awareness about the importance of privacy and protecting personal information—a crucial component of survivors’ safety.
Obtaining privacy over personal data can seem almost impossible in today’s digital age. A significant amount of our lives is online, and even our offline activities seem to emerge online… somehow, whether we want it to or not. I gave a presentation recently and the organizers took photos and posted them in a public photo album that included my full name. But this is not an isolated event, this has happened several times in my work. During another presentation, attendees were tweeting out my quotes followed by my full name. At no point was I asked for my permission. It becomes my responsibility to actively reach out and communicate any privacy needs. It’s usually just assumed that people are ok with sharing their lives on the web. This is unfortunate. For survivors of abuse, whose privacy is directly linked to their safety, staying on top of what people and companies do with their personal information can be downright exhausting.
We need to shift our collective thinking around data and privacy. Just because it can be online, does not mean that it should be. People often feel bad or uncomfortable asking others to remove online posts or requesting basic information about privacy policies. It’s time to flip the narrative on this. It’s ok to share privacy needs and requests. It’s ok to ask for content to be removed. Privacy is critical to safety for survivors, but survivors shouldn’t have to disclose safety concerns for their privacy to be considered or taken seriously. If we approach this from a privacy-first framework, we can actually start protecting privacy instead of chasing after it.
We’ve all heard tips about protecting our own privacy. That list is everywhere. Let’s celebrate Data Privacy Day differently this year - let’s consider some steps we can take to protect other people’s privacy. If we can create this shift in culture, our own privacy will also be more protected.
1. Ask before you post pictures of, or content about, other people.
Not everyone wants their information or images online - Or maybe they don’t care if it’s shared with a limited audience, but prefer that it not have a public audience. You can never assume. Even your selfie-obsessed friend deserves privacy.
2. Ask before you post pictures of, or content about, other people’s kids.
I know this one can be hard. I mean, do they not see how adorable their kid is? Or how adorable my kid is sitting next to their kid? Privacy over cuteness, people. We have to get our priorities straight.
3. Think before you share something that was sent to you and ask for permission.
Just because someone shared it with you or on their Facebook page, doesn’t mean they want it shared with everyone you know.
4. If you run a business or organization website or social media site – ask before you post content that is personally identifying.
Even better, create policies and practices around how you ensure full consent.
Do you see a pattern here? Asking before sharing is the fundamental part of ensuring that people are in control of their privacy. It’s easy to think that we’re all just a needle in a haystack and wonder what issue could possibly come from a simple post or tag. But we live in a world of search engines and even if your page doesn’t have many followers, that content can pop up with a simple Google search. Changing how we treat other people’s information will transform our own privacy risks in the future. Join us in creating a culture of respect and consent in regards to privacy.
Deputy Director, Safety Net Project