Sexuality is one of the most important ways in which we identify, establish, and maintain our boundaries…Privacy is critical to being able to decide what you like, what feels right and wrong for yourself, and finding and keeping your boundaries. – Violet Blue
I recently had the pleasure of spending time in Violet Blue’s company while we both attended DEFCON 23 in Las Vegas. Thank goodness I ran out of poolside reading material by Day Two, because it prompted me to pick up the reduxed copy of Blue’s book “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy”. TSGGP (an acronym that I’m just now realizing sounds like it was stolen from one of my porn set itineraries) may not be the only cyber security handbook designed specifically for women, but it’s hands-down the best one. Blue walks you through the different ways your online security may be compromised, dispelling knowledge in a way that feels accessible but never condescending, and focuses on the specific ways that women can be targeted. There’s nothing light or fluffy about Blue’s advice – it’s all about empowerment through education, reclaiming control over your personal privacy, and never taking “no” for an answer. She sprinkles personal experiences throughout but doesn’t overwhelm you with unnecessary narratives, and I was surprised at how deeply her stories emotionally resonated with me. Additionally, her definition of “women” is so refreshingly inclusive that I had no qualms about immediately referring TSGGP to some of my closest transfeminine friends.
There’s no doubt about it: Blue may be an award-winning author and journalist, a personality who compels DEFCON attendees to throw themselves across her path just to gain her acknowledgment, but she is undisputedly “one of us”, and she’s earned her cultural microphone.
One thing that struck me time and time again about TSGGP was how applicable much of its information is to people working in the sex industry. Blue has publicly stationed herself as a proud ally to that community, and while her guide isn’t outright advertised as being a privacy manual for sex workers (I’m sure there are legal issues there to be considered), I regard it as a necessary read for every cam model, stripper, escort, porn performer, fetish model, and professional dominant/submissive. However, just in case you need more convincing (or maybe because your wallet is running especially thin this month), I’ve pulled together a miniature manual below interspersed with my own commentary. Enjoy!
Why Privacy Is Important To Sex Workers & Why We’re Different From Other Demographics*
*Aside from that exchanging-sexual-services-for-money thing
Sex workers are targets for invasions of privacy and breaches of security just as popular musicians and film stars are, except we have none of the privilege (universal social acceptance, unlimited resources to devote to staying safe, etc). Scum want to make us feel like we deserve to have our privacy violated, as though there are no distinctions between the work we do and who we are as individuals. As though discretion is either black or white, all or nothing, with no grey area. As though we’re “asking for it”. Are mechanics asking for their brakes to be tampered with? Are doctors asking to be struck with sudden illness? No. Society’s blindspot around the separation of work and play seems only to occur when sex is on the table, and as Blue points out, “People make these arguments when you’re not giving them what they want – and what they want is something private from you. When you refuse to give these people what they want, standing your ground about something private, they often get mean and angry.” As sex workers, often people who consume our services don’t understand that what we do is actually labor – not just some hobby or recreational passion – so they feel entitled to our time, attention, and private information in a way they would never feel about a professional in a non-sexual field. The thing is, we don’t owe them shit.
While there are all kinds of reasons for people to up their privacy ante (creeps telling lies about you, criminals stealing your identity, hackers spying on you via your webcam, companies selling your personal info to other companies), the number one priority for many sex workers is controlling disclosure. Most of us work tirelessly to continuously define the line that separates our work persona(s) from our legal/IRL identity, and for good reason – there are no laws protecting us from losing our “vanilla” jobs, our homes, or even our children for being “outed” as sex workers. We care less about “revenge porn” and more about fans stalking us outside our homes. While less concerned with information about our sexual orientation leaking, we don’t want our parents suddenly being anonymously emailed an onslaught of links to our latest series of BDSM shoots. Just because our security priorities are different from the “muggles” of the world doesn’t mean they’re any less valid.
There’s the bitter taste of irony on my tongue as I write this post. I’ve always been of the opinion that the more information about you that is publicly available the less power that information has, and the less likely it is that some asshole can harm you with it. I’m speaking to separation of identities here. This is one of the reasons why I chose to conflate my legal identity with my performer and sex worker identities right from the get-go; the less perceived shame one has about sex work, the less likely a villain is to try to use it as ammunition. As such, I don’t go out of my way on a daily basis to ensure I’m not “outed”. I don’t lay awake at night with anxiety about my boss or university professors discovering my “secret”. There is, however, a distinct privilege in my decision to live this way. I don’t have children that could potentially be taken from me, I seek out sex-positive employers for my “vanilla” jobs and/or work for myself, and I’m a white, cisgender woman who does indoor sex work in carefully negotiated, structured environments. Plus, I got into sex work when I was eighteen years old, before I had to make decisions about things like graduate school, career mobility, and longterm relationships. That gave me an advantage – people had the opportunity to reject me when I was forthcoming about my work. I never had to protect a secret that manifested after I had already committed to a way of life.
“[Online harassment] communicates to the world that it’s okay to devalue us and invites others to participate in harassing, humiliating, and hurting us.” – Violet Blue
– Make a physical (yes, pen and paper) list of websites you have profiles and passwords on and keep it in a safe place.
– Set reminders to change the passwords on those websites, as well as on your email accounts, app. every 90 days
– Lots of companies don’t alert you when there’s a security breach that may compromise your information (cough Comcast cough). I frequently get annoyed when Wells Fargo puts a hold on my credit card for potential “suspicious activity”, but I keep reminding myself how valuable their transparency and trigger-happiness is.
– Take the “online privacy test” and google ALL your identities: work name(s) AND legal name(s). Look for connections made between them.
– Use different email addresses for different online accounts. You can set them up to forward email to the address you actually check.
– Get a post office box that you can use in place of your home address so you have an address to give clients and fans when they want to send you mail or gifts (in lieu of this, I actually use The Armory’s address since I frequently work for Kink .com and just have people address it to me via “c/o” assignation).
– Get a free, Internet-based VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone number to use for work so you’re not giving out your personal number (I use Google Voice – took me less than five minutes to set up).
– View all of your online profiles, both work and personal, as someone else – then adjust the privacy settings. Do this every few months, as privacy settings often change without user knowledge.
– Make strong passwords that are at least 12 characters long. Include capital letters, numbers and symbols if possible. Don’t use pet or family names, and don’t use your address, SS number, DOB, or other personal info. Also, never recycle or reuse a password.
– Use a password manager on your computer like 1Password, LastPass, or KeePass to safely store and keep track of them.
– Have a work website? Make sure you’re bulletproof to a “whois lookup” – a query and response tool used to look up the ownership information on a website – by paying a small additional fee through your domain registration company to make your personal information private.
– Back up everything. Invest in a secure external hard drive that you store in a safe place. Nothing sucks more than having your computer compromised and losing all of your ad copy, photosets, etc.
– Lock down the privacy settings on your phone. Set a PIN/password to prevent anyone from unlocking it. Never activate location-sharing services on your apps. Adjust the security of your text messages so that they flash up on your screen as “Incoming Text” instead of previewing the text’s content. Always wipe an old phone before discarding or reselling it.
– For things like personal dating profiles, it’s a good idea to take photos specifically for the profiles. Don’t pull some of your Sexy-But-Safe-For-Work pics from a working profile – those photos can be traced and used to connect the two identities.
– Make your browser private. Go into your browser’s settings and take a look at the security and privacy bits, then turn off anything that says it’s tracking you. You can also always turn “Private Browsing” on in Settings/Preferences.
Privacy is your right. Assuming you’re not an ax murderer, it doesn’t matter what you want to keep private. It’s up to you to decide what you want to keep private, and whatever you want to keep private is worth protecting. – Violet Blue
Challenges Yet To Be Addressed
While the security advice Blue gives is sage, some of it is hard to adhere to as a sex worker and/or directly contradicts the demands of our job. For example…
– While Blue recommends changing our website and profile login usernames with the same frequency we’d change our passwords, sex workers have to be strategic and consistent in their branding. Our names, faces and bodies are our billboards and commercials, and we can’t go changing them willy-nilly for fear of losing the client and/or fan base we’ve worked so hard to manifest.
– Adult performers such as cam models and porn stars have to submit age verification documentation in order to be able to work, aka a 2257 form accompanying at least one form of photo ID. Though Blue cautions against scanning or photographing your ID and emailing it to anyone (thereby making it easier for your identity to be stolen), I don’t see any way around it without presenting yourself as unbookable to the companies in question.
Electronic Frontier Foundation: http://www.eff.org
Tech-Savvy Therapists List: http://smartprivacy.tumblr.com/therapists
For dozens of other invaluable resources, as well as TONS more advice (including what to do if you are hacked/stalked/harassed), BUY THE BOOK!
Ms. Violet Blue (@violetblue) is an investigative tech reporter for Engadget, ZDNet, and CBS News, as well as an award-winning sex author and columnist. In addition, her journalism resume includes seeing her byline on CNN, The San Francisco Chronicle, Forbes, MacLife, O The Oprah Magazine, CNET, Playboy, Penthouse, Bizarre, and many other magazines and websites. She is an Advisor to Without My Consent, a Member of the Internet Press Guild, a Member of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and is an Editor on the Board for Routledge’s Porn Studies Journal. Blue is a member of both The Internet Press Guild and The Center for Investigative Reporting, and is an Advisor at Without My Consent. Blue is an often-censored educator, speaker, crisis counselor (and seasoned counselor trainer). She leads intensive, immersive media crisis trainings for UCSF’s Global Health Program, and its NGO trainings that include volunteers from Doctors Without Borders and The American Red Cross.