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Digital tool can help LGBTQ youth securely access information online

This statement was originally published on eff.org on 14 April 2015.

The Internet provides a wide-range of resources for LGBTQ youth to find community, health information, and other resources to explore and understand their identities. Unfortunately, many of these resources get censored, either intentionally or as collateral damage from the use of other filters. It can be difficult to access online resources without being outed to peers, family, and online advertisers. Young people need space to explore and experiment without fear that their curiosity will be punished or logged on their permanent records. Today we unveil a new playlist on Surveillance Self-Defense tailored to help young people safely access the information they need.

Only 43 percent of gender-nonconforming youth have a supportive family member. This means that the majority of such young people have to fend for themselves in finding health information, community, and other resources to explore their identities. Families may mistreat or disown LGBTQ children and explicitly work to deny them access to the wider resources and communities that can help.

This playlist is designed to help young people navigate social media and protect themselves from snooping and outing by ad companies that track online activity, social media, and their peers. It covers personal computers, shared computers (such as those at a library or school), and mobile devices.

This is one of many SSD playlists; each one is customized to the needs of a particular community or type of person and draws on our larger database of anti-surveillance resources. LGBTQ activists may wish to consult the SSD playlist for activists and protesters, and LGBTQ persons living in countries that persecute them may wish to consult our guide for protecting yourself against government surveillance and the excellent guide Tactical Technology Collective for LGBTI persons in Sub-Saharan Africa. Tactical Technology's guide concentrates on African individuals and human rights defenders, but has useful details regarding broad, common threats, such as entrapment, extortion, harassment, and unauthorized access to devices.

These resources speak to what individuals can do to protect themselves, but privacy is a community effort. As such, there are things that friends and organizations serving marginalized communities can do to protect vulnerable youth. In particular, organizations catering for LGBTQ youth can provide for HTTPS encrypted access to their websites to secure against external keyword censorship and monitoring. They can decline to include social media and analytics beacons on their site which track readers that may leak information about user interests to other organizations. Friends can install software that allows for secure communications, such as OTR for instant messaging, so they can be there for others who don't feel comfortable opening up on heavily-surveilled platforms. And, finally, the people who run those platforms can work harder to understand that by making assumptions like “privacy is dead,” or that it is somehow dishonest to trust your friends more than you trust Facebook, or that you “shouldn't be doing” anything online that you don't want to share with Google, they're inflicting harm on a vulnerable population.

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