16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence: protecting your online privacy in 16 steps

Online privacy and data security is fast becoming a feminist issue. With the evolution of technology, the internet is yet another space where women face harassment and abuse — including hate speech, ‘revenge porn’, and cyber-stalking. To mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, read our 16 tips to take control of your online life from our DIY Guide to Online Safety.

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence takes place every year, spanning from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on the 25th of November to Human Rights Day on the 10th December. The 16 Days are an opportunity for survivors and allies to step up, speak up, and join together to demand that we eradicate all forms of gender-based violence.

Activism to end gender-based violence doesn’t start and end with this fortnight, of course. Fighting gender-based violence requires day-in-day-out activism, which is vital, inspiring, exhausting and — heartbreakingly — still so necessary. This activism is manifested in the tireless efforts and advocacy of domestic violence refuges and sexual violence support services, in direct action and in the slow wheels of policy change. It can be felt in the air of radical spaces that work to promote social justice; it can be scrolled through on our twitter feeds, and is embodied in the survivors keeping on and fighting for change.

For over 25 years, the 16 Days of Activism have been a campaign moment that builds momentum and solidarity. Progress has been made, though the root of gender-based violence — patriarchal oppression -remains consistent, and the challenge has evolved along with our technology.

Online and Offline: the sites of gender-based violence

Stalking and harassment are forms of gender-based violence: they disproportionately affect women and girls, and result from gendered power imbalances. Such persistent and unwanted attention leaves survivors feeling anxious, distressed, and intimidated. And harassment and stalking don’t need to be ‘physical’; cyber-stalking is no less exhausting and invasive. Unfortunately, modern technology has made it increasingly easy for abusive partners to harass partners. Access to your devices or your online data can enable an abusive partner to locate you physically, or access information — such as your finances.

“No matter what I did — he found me. Now I know how he did that… ”
A user of our DIY Guide to Online Safety Guide

Like all forms of gender-based violence, stalking and harassment are mechanisms of control that can leave people feeling powerless. The good news is, there are steps you can take to retain control over your online data and privacy.

Chayn worked with a group of survivors and data security experts to create our DIY Guide to Online Safety to help enable people — especially women — to feel informed about their online security.

Our guide was written with women dealing with domestic abuse and stalking in mind, but it is for everyone. It is never someone’s fault if they are experiencing any type of gender-based violence — whether online, offline, or both. The perpetrator is solely responsible for their actions — and it is their choices, not a survivor’s, that cause abuse. However, we wrote this guide to shed light on the way that modern technology facilitates stalking and harassment, and the steps we can take to secure our data. We crowdsourced this guide with survivors to collect the best hints and tips of how to cover your tracks online.

As part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we’ve distilled our DIY Guide to Online Safety into 16 handy tips.

1 — Create a strong password.

Think ‘passphrase’ not ‘password’. You can use How Secure Is My Password to test the strength of your passwords!

Don’t recycle or reuse passwords, and create a new and different password for every site you sign up to. Don’t let your browser save your password. You can use a Password Manager, like 1Password, to help generate complex passwords and store encrypted versions, so you don’t have to remember a million different codes.

2 — Go one step further. Enable Two-Factor Authentication.

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) makes it harder for anyone attempting to hack your accounts. Instead of signing into your accounts using just a password, you’ll typically need to also enter a short code sent to you in an email or text, or generated by an app on your phone.

See which sites allow you to enable two-factor authentication here.

3 — Logout of social media sites after your visit

Whenever we use the internet, technology collects data on you via email providers, mobile-phone apps, search engines, browsers, and social-media messengers. The data collected might include the information we gave when we signed up to the site — like our address, emails, and personal interest. But we’re also transmitting data from our smartphone unknowingly: wifi signals, GPS locations, websites browsed.

Worryingly, in the hands of an abuser, this information could endanger your personal safety, your control over your identity online, and expose your whereabouts.

Good news: the data trackers can’t find you when you’re logged out!

4 — Secure your browser.

First, test how safe your current browser is with Panopticlick. Then, use our guide to help you change your browser settings to allow private browsing and ask websites not to track you.

5 — Cover your camera.

Hacking into a webcam is common and can lead to an abuser recording you without your knowledge. The webcam could be recording even if the light isn’t on. Cover your webcam lens with a plaster, a removable sticker, or a scrap of a post-it note.

6 — Turn off location services.

Only turn on location settings as you need them. It is important to have these services turned off by default as this will reduce the risk of location tracking, save battery power and reduce unwanted data streams initiated by applications running in the background or remotely by your mobile carrier.

For Android: Switch off Wireless and GPS location (under Location Services) and mobile data (this can be found under Settings > Personal > Location).

For an iPhone: Switch off Wireless and GPS location: Settings > Privacy > Location Services and either turn off all Location Services using the Location Services slider or use the individual sliders for each location-aware app or item on your device.

7 — Review your Facebook privacy settings.

Facebook privacy settings are constantly resetting and updating. It’s worth taking 5 minutes to hop on to privacy settings, and check out who can see your stuff and who can contact you.

8 — Install an Antivirus program.

To protect you from nasty malware or spyware, the best system we came across was Avast!, but you could also take a look at Avira Free Antivirus, AVG Anti-Virus Free, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition or Sophos

Enable ‘always on’, run a scan every week, and make sure you get the software updated. Oh, and only run one Antivirus program at a time.

9 — Check yourself out.

Many of us will have an online footprint. One way to suss out what this looks like is to logout of all your accounts, and then search your name on a search engine. Use quotation marks when searching your name (“Jane Smith”) and be sure to check the image results, too. Create a Google Alert to get an email every time your name appears online — it might seem vain but your online safety is worth it!

Showing up on ‘people finder’ websites? You can try to remove this information by visiting the following websites and requesting them to remove your listing:

10 — Data leaks

Sometimes, organisations who hold our data might not follow strict guidelines to make sure our data is not leaked or shared. The results of a data leak are the same for us — whether the organisation was malicious or incompetent.

Check out Have I been pwned? to see if your email or username has ever been compromised in a major data breach. If so, we refer you back to tips 3, 4, and 5 to protect all of your important accounts.

11 — Be mindful when using online banking

Online banking can be a way for someone to gather information about your account activity, and gain access to your finances, especially if you have a joint account. It’s important to change your login details as soon as you receive them from the bank. The bank will often send a paper letter to you containing the details — destroy this. It’s also a good idea to switch to paperless statements, and to change your billing address to your current address, if possible.

And, like our other tips: create a strong password, always log out, and set up two-factor authentication if you can.

If you’re worried someone could use online banking to track you, you can log in to online banking and ensure all ‘alerts’ on account activity are deactivated.

12 — Document any violations of your privacy

If you choose to press charges against someone who has been harassing or stalking you, or file for a restraining order, it’s important to keep a record of their behaviour.

Take screenshots of any messages/ texts/ emails/ phone records you receive that show that they are harassing you. In a diary, write down the date and time of each incident in chronological order.

Always save the screenshots in more than one place. You might like to save them in a private Google Drive folder, private Cloud account, private Dropbox or at CrashPlan. Another option is to e-mail screenshots to a secret email address that only you know about, or to a friend’s e-mail address. Remember to delete the e-mail from your “Sent” and “Draft” folders to remove all traces of it.

13 — Assess the risks

YOU are the expert in what devices, apps and services you use, how you use them and what you use them for.

However, we also loved this Privacy Test by Smart Privacy to assess your privacy, your online habits and behaviour.

14 — Take Care of Yourself

Any type of online harassment, stalking or abuse can be incredibly intimidating and exhausting. You may be experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or a combination of all of these. Even if people around you may make you feel that you are exaggerating or overreacting, your feelings are completely real and legitimate. Take time to look after yourself. You deserve to seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

15 — Check out our advanced guide

As well as our Basic DIY Guide to Online Safety, we’ve put all the useful information we learned from our collaborators and security heroes into our Advanced Guide. The Advanced Guide is comprehensive and particularly useful if you’re worried about an abusive partner who may have had access to your devices. We walk you through everything we’ve learnt about data privacy and online security, step by step.

16 — Wear Orange for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

Orange is the official colour of the 16 Days. Why? Because orange is bright — like the future, and a world free of violence against women and girls. At Chayn, we believe this world is possible — it’s why we leverage the power of technology to address violence and oppression around the world. We’ll be wearing orange in solidarity this fortnight — join us!


This blog post was written by Chayn volunteer, Alexandra Duffy.

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