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How to Protect Your Digital Privacy if Roe v. Wade Falls

How to Protect Your Digital Privacy if Roe v. Wade Falls

While it may be increasingly important for people in the US to consciously consider what they’re posting when it comes to their own abortions or those of loved ones, Hayley McMahon, an independent public health researcher who studies abortion access, notes that the goal of this advice is not to chill speech, but to keep people safe.

“I don’t ever want to tell someone they shouldn’t talk about their experience or they can’t talk about their experience, because there’s tons of power in abortion storytelling,” McMahon says. “But I think people need to have all of the information and an understanding of the risks, and then they can make choices about what to say where.”

Know Your Rights

Researchers emphasize, too, that people in the US should know and feel secure in their rights when it comes to dealing with law enforcement. If you are being questioned by police, you can simply say, “I am exercising my right to remain silent and I want to speak with an attorney.” Resources like the Repro Legal Helpline can help connect you with specific legal advice. Additionally, lock your devices with a strong, unique PIN number, keep them locked, and simply ask for an attorney if a cop attempts to compel you to unlock your device. 

McMahon also adds that in the very rare case of a complication with a medication abortion, people should not feel pressure to disclose the treatment to clinicians in the emergency room or other health care settings. Simply saying, “I think I’m having a miscarriage” will suffice.

“People need to understand that it’s impossible to tell the difference between spontaneous miscarriage and medication abortion,” McMahon says. “Medication abortion simply induces a miscarriage. And of course, we typically want everyone to disclose their health history to their clinician, but in this case, the treatment is the same, so nothing is lost by not disclosing that information.”

Deluge of Data

Using apps, browsing the web, and using search engines are all activities that can expose personal details, creating a major challenge in controlling the flow of personal information as people research or seek abortions. And often by the time someone is seeking an abortion, they have already generated data that could reveal their health status. Period-tracking apps, for example, gather data that may seem benign but is clearly sensitive in the context of potential abortion criminalization. In one recent case, the Federal Trade Commission investigated and sanctioned the fertility-tracking app Flo Health for sharing user health data with marketing and analytics firms, including Facebook and Google. And researchers have also found numerous examples of health websites sharing personal data with third parties or conducting targeted ad-tracking without adequately informing users and in violation of their privacy policies.

Using a search engine that doesn’t track potentially sensitive user data, like DuckDuckGo, and browser extensions that block web trackers, like EFF’s Privacy Badger, are all steps you can take to significantly cut down on how much of your browsing data ends up in tech companies’ hands. And consider analog options, if possible, for recording and storing reproductive information, like a notebook or paper calendar where you log details of your menstrual cycle.

One of the most pernicious and complicated aspects of attempting to rein in your personal data as you research or seek an abortion is the question of how to mitigate the collection of your location data. Always turn off location services for as many apps as possible—iOS and Android both make this relatively easy now. And if you’re traveling to receive an abortion, you might consider leaving your phone at home or keeping it in a faraday bag for as much of the trip as possible.

“A lot of those data-generating activities that you’ve already engaged in in the past are already out there,” says Andrea Downing, founder of the nonprofit Light Collective and a security and privacy researcher focused on patient populations and social media. “You can delete apps from here forward, turn off location services, stop using a fertility app, and those are all great steps. But it’s also reasonable if people can’t remember everything all the time. Patient populations are susceptible and vulnerable online, and we need to focus on protecting them.”

McMahon, the independent public health researcher, echoes this sentiment, noting that any small steps a person can take to defend their data are positive and should be celebrated.

“I want to emphasize, it is definitely not someone’s fault if they forget to do any of these things and then get criminalized,” she says. “People may feel like they made a mistake if they reach out to others for help, but no! You did a normal human thing and the system is criminalizing you.”

While issues of digital privacy are extremely salient to people seeking abortions, they impact every marginalized and disenfranchised group. And as the Light Collective’s Downing points out, they ultimately affect everyone.

“Roe v. Wade is about privacy, it was always the core thing underlying that case,” she says. “So even if you are not a person seeking an abortion, you need to be thinking in terms of how your rights may be next.”

You Need a Password Manager. Here Are the Best Ones

You Need a Password Manager. Here Are the Best Ones

Bitwarden offers a paid upgrade account. The cheapest of the bunch, Bitwarden Premium, is $10 per year. That gets you 1 GB of encrypted file storage, two-factor authentication with devices like YubiKey, FIDO U2F, Duo, and a password hygiene and vault health report. Paying also gets you priority customer support.

After signing up, download the app for Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, or Linux. There are also browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Edge, Vivaldi, and Brave.

Best Full-Featured Manager

Dashlane app
Courtesy of Dashlane

I first encountered Dashlane several years ago. Back then, it was the same as its competitors with no standout attributes. But recent updates have added several helpful features. One of the best is Site Breach Alerts, something other services have since added as well. Dashlane actively monitors the darker corners of the web, looking for leaked or stolen personal data, and then alerts you if your information has been compromised.

Setup and migration from another password manager is simple, and you’ll use a secret key to encrypt your passwords, much like 1Password’s setup process. In practice, Dashlane is very similar to the others in this list. The company did discontinue its desktop app earlier this year, moving to a web-based user interface, which is a little different than 1Password and Bitwarden. (The desktop apps will officially shut down on January 10, 2022.) I primarily use passwords in the web browser anyway, and Dashlane has add-ons for all the major browsers, along with iOS and Android apps. If a desktop app is important to you, it’s something to be aware of. Dashlane offers a 30-day free trial, so you can test it out before committing.

After signing up, download the app for Android and iOS, and grab the browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, and Edge.

Best DIY Option (Self-Hosted)

KeePassXC app displayed on Microsoft Windows
Courtesy of KeePassXC

Want to retain more control over your data in the cloud? Try using a desktop application like KeePassXC. It stores encrypted versions of all your passwords into an encrypted digital vault that keeps you secure with a master password, a key file, or both. The difference is that instead of a hosted service like 1Password syncing it for you, you sync that database file yourself using a file-syncing service like Dropbox or Edward Snowden’s recommended service, SpiderOak. Once your file is in the cloud, you can access it on any device that has a KeePassXC client.

Why do it yourself? In a word: Transparency. Like Bitwarden, KeepassXC is open source, which means its code can be and has been inspected for critical flaws.

Download the desktop app for Windows, MacOS, or Linux and create your vault. There are also extensions for Firefox, Edge, and Chrome. It does not have official apps for your phone. Instead, the project recommends KeePass2Android or Strongbox for iPhone.

Another Option

NordPass app shown on Mac laptop
Courtesy of NordPass

NordPass is a relatively new kid on the password manager block, but it comes from a company with significant pedigree. NordVPN is a well-known VPN provider, and the company brings to its password manager much of the ease of use and simplicity that made its VPN offering popular. The installation and setup process is a breeze. There are apps for every major platform (including Linux), browser, and device.

The free version of NordPass is limited to one device, and there’s no syncing available. There is a seven-day free trial of the premium version, which lets you test device syncing. But to get that for good, you’ll have to upgrade to the $36-a-year plan. (Like its VPN service, NordPass accepts payment in cryptocurrencies.)

How to Set Up Lock Screens on All Your Devices

How to Set Up Lock Screens on All Your Devices

It may feel frustrating to have to enter your password every time you sit down at your laptop, or to have to scan your fingerprint every time you want to get into your phone, but these security measures are the most important ones on your device.

Lock screen security is what stands between strangers, thieves, snooping colleagues, overcurious housemates, and all other unauthorized visitors and your private data. Think about it: Once your phone is unlocked, access to your social media, your emails, your documents, your photos, and much more is just a few taps away.

Thankfully, the makers of the major operating systems have been working hard to strike the right balance between protection and convenience when it comes to lock screens. Here’s how to stay safe without making logging in an overly onerous task.

Android

Screenshot of Android lock screen settings menu

Some of the lock screen options available on Android.

Google via David Nield

Different Android devices come with different ways of unlocking, including face scanning and fingerprint reading, so the options you see will vary depending on the make and model of your phone. What’s more, each Android vendor puts out a slightly different spin on the software that comes installed on their handsets.

When it comes to the latest version of Android that Google puts out on its Pixel phones, you can find the lock screen options by opening up the main Settings pane and choosing Security and then Screen lock—the various options available on your phone will then be displayed. Most phones use a PIN as the default or the fallback option, but it’s up to you.

Once a screen lock has been configured, you’re able to customize it by tapping the cog icon next to Screen lock on the Security screen. Here you can choose how long your phone waits before it automatically locks itself: A shorter time is better, because there’s less chance of someone else being able to pick up your phone and access the data on it before the screen lock is enabled.

From the Security menu, pick Advanced settings and then Smart Lock to get a bit more creative with your lock screen setup. Here you can set your phone to automatically unlock itself when it’s connected to a trusted device (like your car’s Bluetooth stereo) or when it’s in a trusted place (like your home—where there’s less of a likelihood of a stranger swiping your handset and trying to gain access to it).

iOS

Screenshot of iOS Face ID and Passcode settings menu

Face ID can protect more than just the lock screen on iOS.

Apple via David Nield

As on Android, your options on iOS will vary: Some iPhones come with Touch ID, for example, and some don’t. We’ll give you the instructions for the latest iOS software running on the latest iPhones with Face ID, but the process is very similar for iPhones with Touch ID instead (and indeed for iPads).

Playing With Crypto? You’ll Need a Wallet (or Several)

Playing With Crypto? You’ll Need a Wallet (or Several)

If people who buy cryptocurrencies intended only to hold on to them as speculative investments, there’d be no real need for crypto wallets. Exchanges and online brokerages that convert dollars to, say, bitcoin would store all that digital currency for you like so much money in a bank account. 

But crypto wallets (aka “blockchain wallets”), which have been around since the early days of Bitcoin, serve a lot of purposes beyond just HODLing that cryptocurrency with no fees.

Wallets can also store digital collectibles like NFTs that you might want to buy, sell, trade, or transfer to someone else, or even to another wallet you own. They can make it easier to send and receive digital money to and from other people’s accounts, crypto exchanges, or digital marketplaces. And, because they’re typically decentralized, even if they’re created by an exchange like Coinbase Wallet or Binance’s Trust Wallet, you control the account. That means only you are responsible for what’s in the wallet, remembering the password and secret seed phrase that unlocks the wallet, and managing the funds that it holds.

While the concept is simple—a place to store your cryptocurrency and use it—choosing a crypto wallet can be an incredibly intimidating experience. There are somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 different wallets to choose from. Some handle only a few popular cryptocurrencies; others let you trade and store obscure types of digital tokens. Ready to get started?

Choose a Wallet

The first thing you need to decide is what you plan to do with your cryptocurrency.

If the NFT market is what you’re interested in, choose a wallet that can connect to NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea, SuperRare, and Solanart. Some of these marketplaces operate on a particular blockchain, and that might determine your choice of wallet. For instance, OpenSea supports Ethereum, Polygon, and Klatyn blockchains; most transactions use Ethereum and a lot of NFT traders use Metamask to buy, sell, store, and list for purchase NFTs they got through OpenSea. Some of the top NFTs on OpenSea include “CryptoPunks” and “Bored Ape Yacht Club,” which you may have heard of.

For Solanart, which relies on the Solana blockchain, where NFTs like “Degenerate Ape Academy” are traded, you’d probably want to choose a wallet that is commonly used by Solana cryptocurrency holders such as Phantom, Solflare, or Sollet.

If you don’t care about NFTs and just want a place to store or to send and receive cryptocurrency, Coinbase, Trust Wallet, Atomic, and Exodus are good places to start.

Another thing to ask before you choose a wallet: Is there a mobile app version? Some wallets are intended for use on desktop computers as a browser extension and are not as mobile-friendly as you might expect, especially if they’re not as established as some of the wallet software mentioned here.

If you are most concerned about security, you might want to consider a hardware crypto wallet. These frequently come in the form of a USB stick that you can disconnect from your system (and the internet) for added security. We’ll talk more about that in the last section below. Some examples of popular hardware crypto wallets include Trezor ($63 to $220 for its two models) and the Ledger Nano X ($149).

How to Send Messages That Automatically Disappear

How to Send Messages That Automatically Disappear

Many mystery and spy movies are based on the premise that you can send messages that self-destruct, but you don’t need to be an international secret agent to do the same with your own texts.

In fact, most popular chat apps now include some kind of disappearing message feature—which means that if you don’t want a permanent record of your conversation, you don’t have to have one. In fact, encrypted messaging app Signal made its disappearing message feature the default.

While it’s handy to have chat archives to look back on for sentimental and practical reasons (recipes, addresses, instructions, and more), there are other times you’d rather nothing was saved. Here’s what to do.

There is a caveat here for all of these apps, in that the people you’re communicating with can take screenshots of what you’ve said—or, if screenshots are blocked, they can take a photo of the screen with another device. Some of them promise to notify you if your messages have been screenshotted or downloaded, but there’s always a workaround. That’s something to bear in mind when choosing who to chat with and how much to share.

Update, December 2021: We’ve updated instructions for Signal, Snapchat, and Messenger (formerly Facebook Messenger.)

Signal

The disappearing messages feature in Signal is an option for every conversation you have, and now it’s available by default or by an individual conversation: You can switch between disappearing messages and permanent messages at any time in any thread. To do this, tap the top banner in any thread, then pick Disappearing messages.

You can choose anywhere from one second to four weeks for your messages to stick around after they’ve been viewed (or choose Off to disable the feature). You can even set a custom timer—you could tell a message to be gone in 60 seconds. An alert appears in the chat whenever you’ve changed this setting, and anything you send from then on follows the rules you’ve set.

To set a default expiry time for messages in all your chats, open the main app settings page and choose Privacy and Default timer for new chats (under Disappearing messages). This applies to every chat you initiate from then on, not to the existing conversations on your phone.

WhatsApp

WhatsApp’s disappearing messages only work with images and videos rather than text, for now. The recipient has 14 days to view whatever it is you’ve sent them, and it vanishes as soon as it’s viewed.

From inside WhatsApp, open the conversation you want to send the picture or video clip to, tap the camera icon at the bottom, then capture your content. You’ll see a little icon showing a 1 in a circle, next to the send icon—tap this to make your message a disappearing image or video.

You can include a caption with the photo or clip, which disappears along with it. Once you’ve sent whatever it is, you won’t see it from your end: You’ll only see a Photo or Video entry in the conversation thread, with the small 1 icon next to it. The text will change to Opened once it’s been viewed.

Snapchat

Snapchat didn’t invent disappearing messages, but it certainly helped popularize them. Access the chat tab by clicking on the second icon from the left along the bottom of the screen. From your main conversation list screen, you can tap any contact to start a conversation, or tap the compose icon (bottom right) if the person you want to talk to isn’t on screen.

Anything in the thread, including text and images, will vanish once it’s been viewed. Either party in a one-to-one conversation can choose to save something permanently by pressing and holding on it—but you’ll be able to see if this happens because it will stay onscreen.