With so many people spending more time at home due to the pandemic, there’s been a surge in internet usage. In March of this year, Forbes reported that online activity spiked by a whopping 70%. More people are spending more time on social media, online shopping, and even dating apps.
More time and engagement online means an increased need for privacy and security safeguards for everyone, but women should be aware of what makes them particularly vulnerable- and what to do about it.
1. Women are more valuable marketing targets than men.
83% of all consumer spending is led by women, and that amounts to around $20 trillion in purchases globally.
Women are typically in charge of how finances are allocated in their households, and are often doing the purchasing not only for themselves but for their families and friends- including everything from day-to-day basics and gift items to bigger ticket expenses like trips and luxury goods.
This tremendous spending power means that advertising and marketing entities are significantly more interested in the data collected from women’s online behavior.
2. Women are more at risk for unknowingly sharing intimate data.
A risk factor that has been covered widely in the last year is the use of period-tracking apps. Bloomberg Businessweek reported that not only are over 100 million women using these apps to follow their menstruation cycle for various purposes, including family planning, but that the most popular choices were sharing other collected data with Facebook- giving the media giant (and scores of other third parties) access to highly personal information such as sexual activity, mood, weight, and contraceptive choices.
All of this data is used to target and manipulate women into buying products and services.
3. Women are more likely to be victims of online harassment- and more serious crimes.
Women are over 3 times more likely to be stalked than men- and nearly 70% of the perpetrators are known to the victims, and are often current or former partners.
In addition to the array of information that can be readily found through social media and other online presence (such as actual physical location via geotags), even one hacked personal account can provide access to a staggering amount of information.
Private messages, financial data, and intimate photos are just a few of the things a stalker can use to intimidate, extort, and even threaten a target’s offline safety.
Digital Privacy & Security Advice Every Woman Can Use
Don’t allow unnecessary cookies.
Cookies make sites more convenient by remembering your logins and preferences- but not all cookies are necessary to have the best site experience. Some relay information that allows third-parties to track you more easily.
- Always review your cookie options when visiting a site and make sure third-party and unnecessary cookies are not allowed. You can also do this in your browser settings.
Trackers do exactly that: they track you and your behavior- sometimes even after you leave the original site. Often these trackers are deployed by- you guessed it - third parties like Facebook and Google. Your data makes them money.
By learning your psychology through trackers, they can advertise to you directly and manipulate your spending (more on that next).
- A simple fix is using add-ons designed to block trackers, like Privacy Badger.
- Or switch to a browser like Brave, which has built-in tracker blocking.
- Download Brave here
Don’t trust apps blindly.
The apps you use are privy to a lot of information about you. Diet apps record heath indicators weight and eating habits. In addition to your monthly cycle, period trackers solicit highly personal details like sexual activity and emotional state.
This information is extremely valuable to marketers. Imagine being targeted based on how vulnerable you might be at a specific time according to your physical or mental health?
- Make sure you know who this information is being shared with before agreeing to the terms.
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Did you know that even in incognito mode your ISP (and many websites) can still see some or all of your data and activity?
A VPN, assures anonymity by masking your IP address and encrypting all the data you send- which means that no one can see your activity online, and even if you were to be hacked, your data would be unreadable.
- ExpressVPN is a trusted option with consistently high ratings.
Make your passwords more secure.
This is something you should do right now- particularly if it’s been a year or more since you last changed your password.
As most stalkers and harassers are people you might already know, there’s a greater chance they could guess or access your password. Strong passwords include a lengthy combination of cases, numbers, and symbols.
Furthermore, it’s recommended to use unique passwords for each of your accounts. Of course, it’s not possible to remember so many unique, secure passwords.
- That’s where a password manager like DashLane comes in. This digital keychain holds all of your passwords securely across devices for easy access and peace of mind.