All around you, snoops are compiling every fact about you: Your name—child’s play. Your occupation—just as easy. Where you live, yes, but also if you tend to spend nights at your we’re-not-defining-it’s place. What you buy, who you’ll likely vote for in the presidential election, and the exact distance between your eyes. Who are these spies? Your phone. Your computer. The smart home device that tells you the weather.
Across the Internet, trackers are in hot pursuit of your information, trailing behind in the virtual shadows every time you add a blouse to your shopping cart, angry Tweet, or search an embarrassing medical question—collecting bread crumbs to take advantage of you later.
Illustration: Claire McCracken
Your private, personal data is under attack. It’s being tracked, mined, archived, shared, and sold. In 2020, each and every tidbit about you—all of your intimate details and idiosyncrasies—is currency that can be more valuable than the dollar, the way it’s gathered more obscure than Bitcoin. Some companies (apps, search engines) have it—often, you give them access without realizing—and others (marketers, consumer brands) want it desperately.
The collecting of personal data isn’t always nefarious, and you may be just fine blindly and blithely giving it away. In fact, companies can use your data to make your life easier and more convenient, creating tailored shopping suggestions, navigating you to the closest coffee shop, and recommending videos you might enjoy. Innocent enough. Except that certain entities don’t just use your data; they abuse it.
No one is safe. But for some—especially women and those in minority groups—this surreptitious infiltration results in more than annoying ads: It could mean being denied housing. It could mean some of your sensitive health info, like HIV status, is spilled. It could mean losing your job for being pregnant. Women drive the majority of U.S. purchasing power, making their data prized and more likely to be hunted. If their information is sold or stolen, they face increased risks, like being stalked by an abusive ex. For women and people of color, the ubiquitous and unregulated invasion of privacy happening in the U.S. could mean life or death.
It’s all quite Orwellian, but you don’t have to surrender to Big Brother. Ahead, we explore and expose privacy’s darkest secrets. What we found may be shocking, but it’s also illuminating. With a few swipes, taps, keystrokes, and perhaps strongly worded emails to your elected representatives, your personal information can be returned to its rightful owner: you.
The Privacy Whisperers
You've read about their companies in the news. Now, hear from the women behind data privacy at the tech industry's heaviest hitters—Facebook, Apple, Google, and more.
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