Technology plays an important role in community building, especially for historically marginalized groups. Women use apps to track all sorts of things, including their periods (almost a third all women in the US) the LGBTQ+ community uses apps to meet like-minded people; and activists campaigning through democratic means are using social media and messaging apps to draw attention to petitions.
However, these rights are currently under threat in the US. For example, police surveillance during Black Lives Matters protests in the United States forced activists to switch to encrypted messaging apps to avoid harassment as they exercised their right to freedom of speech and assembly. In 2020, popular dating apps were accused of sharing sensitive data such as GPS location and sexual orientation with at least 135 third parties, which could have dangerous consequences for the LGBTQIA+ community, who could face harassment due to their sexual orientation. And most recently, moments after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Rowe vs. Wadecalls to remove period tracking apps went viral, and people were worried that the data they were collecting might end up incriminating them.
In particular, the Supreme Court decision highlighted the lack of privacy protections in the US. It demonstrates how law enforcement officers can gain access to compromising location data, Internet searches, and communication history. There are growing concerns that the data could be used as “evidence” in states where abortion is illegal. In Nebraska, for example, a teenager and her mother face criminal charges for allegedly instigating an abortion after Facebook published their private messages at the request of an investigator.
Every time you minimize a right, the consequences fall the most on people belonging to minority groups. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t mean the only thing at risk is a woman’s physical body – it’s a more serious attack on minorities, civil rights, and their entire digital footprint. It hurts women, people of color, low income people, the LGBTQIA+ community, and more. The willingness of the court to set aside the precedent may indicate that other minority rights protected by the state may be threatened, such as same-sex marriage.
The US and EU differ in their approach to data protection due to the General Data Protection Regulation. Legislation passed by the European Union in 2018 (the UK has a similar post-Brexit regulation called UK-GDPR) is one of the toughest privacy and security laws in the world. This expands the ability of people to access information about them and limits the actions of organizations with personal data. In short, your data is safe.
With fewer US data privacy laws in 2023, EU-based businesses will see a surge in US users because the GDPR applies to how a European company uses your data, wherever you are.
GDPR is a term that most people didn’t hear about a few years ago, but in 2023 it will be the first thing they look at when considering joining an app. There is no such federal law in the US, but rather a patchwork of state and industry privacy laws. While President Biden’s office will release consumer guidance on how to protect personal data in mobile apps, it’s far from enough.
The US operates in a blurry and dangerous middle ground, and until there are clear rules and remedies in the country, minorities and marginalized communities will feel safer using apps made in the EU.