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Opinion | You Care More About Your Privacy Than You Think

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It feels appropriate to start with what’s now my standard caveat, from a security professional: “Whatever you do online, operate with the assumption that every picture, email, communication will be one day made public on a big bulletin board.” Now, that’s not to shame or prudishly suggest that one shouldn’t attempt romantic escapades in cyberspace. That’s your call. Still, the internet is held together with duct tape, and if you’re serious about security, it’s good to know the risks up front.

First, Vice has a guide to sexting from 2017, which you might want to take a good look at. Among the important considerations in the piece: setting clear partner-consent guidelines, both for the activity itself and for how you’re going to save (or not save) the videos, photos, text that you generate. For example, even if the chat is secure, it’s pretty difficult to be 100 percent certain that the person on the other end isn’t screenshotting what you’re sending over. Ultimately, as the Vice guide notes, the best way to protect your privacy while sexting is to do it with individuals you trust and by setting clear guidelines and expectations for the experience.

When I posed this question on Twitter, I got a fair amount of snark (“A shared Google doc, as the Founders intended,” one user replied) but also a few good suggestions. For live video, The Signal app has encrypted video calling. Its end-to-end encryption offers a reliable amount of security that no third parties will be listening in (but again, it’s worth repeating that you can never control who might be in the other room on the other end of the device). The same goes for the iPhone’s FaceTime, which offers encryption baked into the video calls. Skype also has a “Private Conversations” feature.

For exchanging messages back and forth, end-to-end encrypted chat apps offer protection from third parties but can’t protect you from a partner who might screenshot the content. Snapchat offers some decent protections in that it notifies you when somebody has screenshotted your message (it also alerts when somebody is using screen recording on iOS), so that might be your best bet.

When it comes to storing any “user-generated content” from a consensual session, be careful to protect that data. Cloud storage is never 100 percent safe, and if you leave your devices hanging around, you’ll want to use a secure storage app to make sure that co-workers, siblings, children or unsuspecting interlopers don’t see anything shocking. The Vice guide suggests Disckreet.

Ultimately, you’ll need to evaluate the options for yourself and choose the path that feels most comfortable for you and your partner. Even the most secure platforms can fall victim to leaks, hacks or bugs. Talk it out with your partner, assess the risks and be mindful of the digital trail you’re creating (the internet has a long memory). And have fun!

There’s a very concerning story developing regarding a cyberattack that has exposed thousands of images of travelers and license plates stored by the Customs and Border Protection agency.



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