No Pride without privacy

The unique online challenges (and benefits) for LGBTQ+ people

Anyone who exists in the 21st century must grapple with increasingly complex privacy issues. But Pride month offers a chance and a responsibility to consider the unique issues and opportunities that LGBTQ+ people face as they function in our extremely connected world.

If we were going to list every privacy challenge LGBTQ+ people face, we would need several articles, said Rori, a Quality Engineer for F‑Secure Total. And it’s not just online. LGBTQ+ people face the risk of having their privacy violated just about every­where, from work to the doctor’s office.

The digitalization of every­thing — from medical records to financial records to our social lives — creates an inter­locking web of potential exposure. This reality can be over­whelming for people who face both legal and social scrutiny for their sexuality or gender identity, facing increased risks of job loss, harassment and doxing or other forms of being maliciously exposed online.

Still, Rori — whose pronouns are they/them — believes the positives of being LGBTQ+ in an internet world are huge, and can out­weigh the negatives, with the right precautions.

Can you trust anyone?

Growing up, my parents drilled into me that you can’t trust anyone on the internet, they said. This encouragement to be careful snow­balled into a paranoia that protected their private information and well-being, as Rori grew up and moved from country to country across Europe.

Even though I now live in a place where it would be very unlikely and very punishable for some­one to compromise my privacy and to steal my information to publish it publicly, we live in such a global environment that some­one living any­where in the world could decide I’m a worthy target, they said. And that’s enough to make me feel unsafe.

And while the paranoia protected Rori from any lasting privacy disasters, they recognize it is also a burden. There are great friend­ships to be had over the internet, they said. There is great community to be had, especially for those of us who are immigrants and come from places that don’t have a queer community in person.

And the cost of that, arguably necessary, paranoia is paid a real lack of intimacy that comes from not daring to let people in. To this day, there are people who I feel close to online who don’t know my birth­day, they said. I don’t feel comfortable letting these people I care about deeply, congratulate me on this very normal thing.

As innocuous as a birth­date may seem, this singular piece of data helps strangers connect your online activity to public self. And these strangers may have far worse intentions than, say, planning a surprise party for you.

Concrete, but vague, privacy advice

Rori’s healthy paranoia shows up even when they offer advice for members of the LGBTQ+ community and others who may want to consciously restrict their digital foot­prints.

I want to be as vague as possible about what I do for privacy reasons, they said. That’s how attuned I am to not share what I’m really doing online.

Rori’s core privacy principle is that they never attach their public self to their online self. The loud queer person I am who exists in queer spaces online has different emails and uses different information to suggest that they live in a different place.

The goal is to create some confusion that makes it difficult to identify the actual person behind the persona. And this behavior comes with emotional risks, Rori adds. You can easily come off as ingenuine when you can’t present your authentic self. And this can create mistrust within your own community.

This necessary subterfuge can be allayed a bit by letting close online friends know that key details you present online may be fictional. But this inevitably activates their paranoia.

Then, of course, the secret is out, they said. And that fear can keep us from truly connecting.

But it’s not all bad!

Rori also wants to make it clear that despite these challenges, the freedom that comes from living digital moments online presents extra­ordinary opportunities for LGBTQ+ people.

There is a benefit to being able to create an online persona, they said. If we can’t exist publicly as the gender we are and with the name we’ve chosen for our­selves, it can be quite a blessing to exist online.

But that’s only possible if your private information is protected. If you can achieve privacy, it’s a real blessing to be able to solidify your persona as who you are, especially if you are trans or non-binary, it can be so helpful to have that secure place to live as who you truly are.

Because of the internet, Rori has the opportunity to help improve F‑Secure, advancing our mission to protect every digital moment, for every­one. By always considering unique perspectives, we can come closer to providing a safe online experience for all.