With advancing web technology, much of our social interactions occur through the internet and there are many positives for users. For transgender individuals and groups the internet has enabled trans people to come together for mutual support, information and advice, able to build a thriving online trans community. Unfortunately, trans people know how it is to feel marginalised and when linked to online transactions, cyberbullying is on the rise. According to both US and UK based research, there has been a notable increase in cases of online attacks against trans people and their communities – up to 2/3 of those taking part in research attest to their own experience of online abuse.
As a consequence, data privacy and protection issues are big news with the core issue a straightforward one. When we use the internet, we are at risk of having our private data shared with third parties – whether permission is given or not – and while this is worrying enough, for trans people they run the risk, where relevant, of being ‘outed’, with abuse directly targeted at individuals and communities.
Online abuse of trans people can be targeted in specific ways, including someone’s personal history and identity, as well as their appearance. The abuse can also affect an individual’s wider community, including families, partners, and friends. While legislation is explicit in terms of the reporting process and mechanisms for redress, very often the damage is done – therefore it is imperative for trans people to give serious consideration to their online privacy. The following are guidelines on what to be aware of, as well as some specific actions that you can take to reduce the risk of cyberbullying. The actions are easy to apply, with no techie qualifications needed!
Ad blocking-Trackers-Phishing-Malware and Adware
Adverts can pose risks that may compromise personal data and device security. Dependent on where you’re based in the world, governments differ as to the laws pertaining to the sharing of personal data with third parties – these can be corporations who use methods of surveillance to target adverts. Even if you never click any of those annoying sponsored ads with their click-bait headlines, nevertheless you could have your personal data and devices tracked. The reason so many advertisements are appearing when you browse is that they are a primary tool to steal your data while tracking your internet behaviour. These adverts can additionally infect your devices with their malware and their consistent aim is to sell you more stuff. To combat this issue, consider these options:
- Browser add-ons – such as Privacy Badger and Matrix, although they might not work for every browser/device, and can make tracking you easier.
- Virtual private network (VPN) with ad block/tracking integrations – such as Cyber Ghost and Perfect Privacy.
- Eblocker – a device that plugs into routers and can provide multi-device protection.
Break up with Google
Their sparkly apps facilitate the collection of your private data to target their advertisements and, as a result, Google dominates cyber advertising space. Check out this guide on how to kick Google into touch. It will advise you on:
- Downloading all your data on Google – ie email, search profile etc.
- Deleting your data and Google accounts.
- Disable logging activity and adverts.
Search engines and privacy
Choose search engines that don’t compromise your online privacy. A couple of suggestions to get you started are:
- DuckDuckGo – no tracking and no targeted ads, plus a no-share policy.
- Searx – versatile and strong on privacy.
Ditch free email accounts
If you consider that all of your photos, documents and emails – anything, in other words – belong to the email provider [with occasional exceptions] and are readily hacked, it’s worth choosing a secure provider. Some alternatives to check out include:
- OpenMailbox – French based + 1 GB storage.
- Mailfence – Belgian + 250 MB free/20 GB Pro.
- ProtonMail – Swiss based + 500 MB.
Secure your devices
One of the best ways to do this is using a quality VPN, one of the most effective ways to give a high degree of online anonymity. They are also useful for bypassing geographic constraints and accessing hitherto blocked content including games and movies. To select a suitable VPN, you will need to think about how you use the internet, and the following are some suggestions for you to explore further:
- Express VPN – $6.67 per month and based in UK Overseas Territory.
- Perfect Privacy – from 8.95 euros per month and Swiss based.
- VPN.ac – $9.00 per month and based in Romania.
Install a VPN on your router.
If you are leasing or renting your current router, not only can these be readily hacked but your ISP can monitor everything you do online. This is actually legal to do in some parts of the world, and includes the UK. Solve this by configuring your VPN service on your router to give comprehensive protection on all the devices you use. To ensure you are using a quality VPN with the right type of router, take a look at these guides to help you:
- Ad Blocker on a router with a VPN.
- VPN router setup [VPN.ac].
- VPN routers – Ultimate Resource Guide.
Avoid Home Assistants
You will have heard of them, including Alexa and Amazon Echo etc. While they are handy for switching on your lights, they are also perfect for marketing surveillance as they gather your private data. It’s definitely worth you switching on your lights, rather than run the risk of your data being shared with third parties!
Be wary of supposed solutions to securing your devices with third-party apps and default settings. To encrypt your devices and anonymize activities, peruse these useful guides:
Think about using a Dual SIM Smartphone
A dual-SIM phone is not only great for travel, but it’s also a great way to sure up your privacy. By using two sim cards in one device you are able to keep your personal life separate to your dating, online shopping or work life. You don’t have to give your personal phone number to all the places you shop online or to somebody new you might have met online. This keeps your ultra personal number out of the hands of telemarketers and other people you might not quite be sure about yet. Also, when an unknown number shows up on your caller ID, you’ll be able to see which sim card is ringing and get a clue as to who the call might be from or what it might be about.
The best way to do this is by using a pay as you go SIM card, topping it up and using it for purposes when you don’t feel comfortable giving out your main number. There are a lot of SIM cards to choose from, as per this guide, Asda Mobile is a good choice due to the credit not expiring and you only need to use the number once every 180 days to keep the number active.
See: Best Dual SIM Phones
Try Linux over Windows 10
Industry professionals have referred to Windows 10 as a ‘privacy disaster‘, wherein Microsoft has configured it to harvest personal data from your system. As a more reliable alternative, think about using Linux with the benefit that it’s open-source.
Even if you are using a VPN to anonymise your IP address, this device tracking infiltrates your browser history through a range of methods, including cookies and fonts. One option to get around this is to download the onion router [known as the Tor browser] with Tor disabled – it can be used in conjunction with a quality VPN service to increase invisibility to trackers. Check out the Tor website for instructions on how to download then, once done, access ‘Options’ to disable.
Review your apps
Applications are known to often contain malware, with Google and Apple regularly removing malware heavy apps from their stores. Review your apps, and delete those that are prone to invite privacy issues. They include games, weather, social media, Chat [ie Messenger, WhatsApp] and location trackers.
Your online life in segments
Spending some time on this can contribute to improving your online privacy. Think about these suggestions:
- One online identity with your real name – eg a LinkedIn profile.
- Adopt a pseudonym/nickname for your web-based social activities.
- Opt for a third persona for what you really need to keep private (eg political affiliations).
Anti Virus Software is a must
While not always the rule for other software, free AV options are often as effective as paid packages. There are several free options on the market, but as one option there is Avast, which is compatible with all operating systems.
Especially relevant in recent times regarding Facebook, social media has myriad tactics for stealing your personal data. If you cannot bear the idea of not using social media accounts, you can take these basic steps to reduce data loss risks:
- Block social media accounts from search engines.
- Delete content such as photos, locations, political posts etc.
- Review your privacy settings.
Just applying a few simple steps can make a difference to your privacy, such as keeping your software regularly updated and taking advantage of secure messaging apps like Signal, which is open source. Be mindful that, as far as corporations and governments go, your texts and calls can be tracked if unsecured.
Taking action can help keep you off the radar of internet bullies, letting you focus on the positive aspects of your online life. Get started by taking advantage of a quality VPN provider, review your apps, use a secure email provider and always remember to log out.