By: Christopher Wood, Co-Founder & Executive Director, LGBT Tech
While hot-button technology topics like net neutrality make headlines for current legislative activity, the underlying concern for all Internet users is data privacy. For marginalized communities, the protection of sensitive data is even greater.
The age-old fear of providing personal information to a government that does not protect the interests of a specific community extends to almost every part of daily life in the Internet age. For individuals who identify as part of a marginalized community, knowing that personal details can lead to profiling situations requires exerting extra effort to protect that information in a rapidly changing tech environment. For example, profiling can be done through algorithms using apps that provide geolocation information sharing where you live, where you frequent, where you work, where you shop, and so on. That data paints a picture of you that can feed into profiling by potential employers, health insurers, advertisers, and more.
It’s not all bad though; data storage can be both positive and negative. An upside of data collection can be improved healthcare and a generally better understanding of personal health issues, for example, by wearing a Fitbit or by researching health concerns. The downside to that same data collection is the ability of an insurance provider or an employer to decide that your lifestyle is unhealthy and to react accordingly.
In a perfect world, data privacy online allows a user the right to control who can access information, how they can access it, and when those people can access it. Unfortunately, consumers are all too familiar with the headlines covering one data breach after another and when that private data is compromised, members of marginalized communities are some of the most vulnerable. This is especially true for individuals in minority communities who solely rely on sensitive information like a social security number to access much-needed social services.
An easy example of that vulnerability can be found within the LGBTQ community. For any LGBTQ individual still choosing with whom to share their gender identity or sexual orientation, the exposure of private online data can present a variety of problems, from loss of employment or familial connections to physical harm or even death. Coupled with the heightened risks that LGBTQ individuals face from a data privacy breach is the fact that the LGBTQ community tends to be earlier adopters and heavier users of the Internet and online services than their heterosexual counterparts.
LGBTQ individuals have enjoyed community and greater acceptance with access to wireless technologies, especially those living in more remote areas where they may be the only LGBTQ individual. Technology acts as a lifeline for the LGBTQ community, but that lifeline is a network of tenuously protected touchpoints and opportunities for authorized and unauthorized data collection.
While data privacy should be a concern for anyone who uses technology, it is of life-saving significance to LGBTQ-identifying people. The LGBTQ community – and all minority communities – can suffer severe consequences from a lack of data privacy.
Marginalized communities already face greater challenges when it comes to technology and universal access. Lack of affordable access to technology has been shown to have an impact on the social and economic opportunities of individuals; those with less access to technology are at a disadvantage when it comes to competing for jobs, obtaining education, or acquiring assistance with basic survival resources. Combining this initial access challenge with the concerns over data privacy creates a complex labyrinth for minority communities.
Minority communities must stay informed and ahead of the curve with innovation and associated privacy issues as technology continues to advance. Users of the Internet and wireless technologies can and should make changes to try to protect their own data privacy, but networks and providers are also responsible for users’ safety. This includes all companies: ISPs, Edge Providers, social media, the Internet of Things, etcetera. If a company collects data, that company is responsible for protecting that data.
Unfortunately, technology legislation is extremely outdated and is not currently protecting consumers consistently, regardless of the technology being used, which creates a hard-to-navigate world that can have a negative impact on privacy. A comprehensive conversation about data privacy should include guidelines to allow the Internet to flourish by updating decades-old rules and focusing on strong pro-consumer privacy rules. After all, the last time Congress passed a major piece of legislation in telecommunications was the 1996 Telecom Act.
Currently, there is a general lack of public understanding of how the Internet works; fears and false narratives are spread as a manifestation of this lack of knowledge. That lack of understanding is part of the challenge of inclusion that marginalized groups face. A single set of privacy rules will help dispel confusion and close gaps. That is why comprehensive legislative action is required to protect data privacy, especially for marginalized communities.
Here at LGBT Tech, we will continue to educate legislators and companies on the specific privacy issues relating to the LGBT community. We continue to demand that those in the technology sphere understand the importance of ensuring data privacy for marginalized communities, given the unique challenges these individuals face.
Christopher Wood is a non-profit Executive and Co-founder, Business Owner, Professor, and Speaker. From coming out as “gay,” to being taken hostage by the first suicide bomber in the US, Chris realized from cradle to grave, this life is short. His non-traditional path, drive to build businesses, and desire to add a voice for a community he deeply loves, led him to look beyond traditional boundaries and forge a path of his own complete, with teaching others how to do the same.