Digital Privacy Workshop: a chronicle
Last Friday, I attended to a workshop aimed to discuss, learn and raise awareness on our Digital Privacy, organized by Reconfigure, a group of “feminist cybersecurity advocates and researchers seeking to engage with groups excluded from tech”. I didn’t know much about the event nor the organizers when I signed up, but I was sure I would enjoy it. As an opensource advocate who is also concerned about how our private data can be (and it is) used by companies and governments, I was seduced by the topic and, above all, by their feminist approach as well as their hybrid profile, halfway between activism and academia. These two topics would soon be made evident.
We were first welcomed by a group of very friendly people who handed out an information sheet, introducing themselves and the event, and a participant agreement which we had to return signed if we wanted to take part into the research they are conducting. Because, yes, as they (sorry for not remembering your names, guys) soon explained at the welcome speech, the workshop was also part of an action-research1 project within the Oxford Internet Institute, funded by a research grant from UK Research & Innovation. As they kindly and thoroughly explained, this meant that we could opt to contribute to the research by sharing our opinions and data. I was positively surprised on their feminist approach (as they stated it) in dealing with that, not only they were very transparent, but they also offered options for those willing to take part into the workshop while not taking part into the research, which I believe is a very coherent behaviour due to the topic (after all they would be dealing with private data). Kudos for them!
Soon after the introduction, we participated in an open discussion through a questionnaire we could interact with in real-time through mentimeter, in which we assessed our demographics (we were around 20 people from all ages -more on gender below), motivations, prior knowledge on the topic and concerns on digital privacy. This last question led to the next phase, in which we divided into smaller groups, where an IT person took note of our interventions and answered the questions that arose, to further discuss our fears and interests. After this first round of discussion, we were introduced to the DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity, a really thorough yet accessible guide written by Noah Kelley from HACK*BLOSSOM which introduces the foundations of key areas and provides a series of free/libre tools grouped around the following topics: Anonymity, Hacking, Data, Phones, and Social. At a personal level it helped me to understand the insides of tools that I was already using, such a VPN, tools I knew existed, such as Tor, or simply learnt of the existence of new and intersting ones such as Tails.
The last part of the workshop consisted of several focus groups (some of which -for those who agreed to take part in the research- were recorded) in which a researcher introduced several topics (like how do we feel regarding cybersecurity, how should be the best app/service for us? ) which we discussed between us and in turn opened new related topics such as security and gender and age, the role of governments and companies… I really enjoyed this part, as thorough the questions and answers we had profound discussions that I had honestly never thought about before so specifically. From time to time, we made short breaks to share some conclusions with the other groups and what people had written on the screen through the menti app. To make things even better, pizza was served for us all!
So that’s grosso modo, how a group of around 20 people spent 3 hours on a Friday evening talking, learning and sharing on cybersecurity, and data privacy and, most of all, having a great time together. As I said before, I was certain that I would enjoy the workshop, but I have to admit that it was completely different from what I had expected and, as a result, it was much better than I thought. At this point, I would like to thank Reconfigure for the organization of the event and wish them great success with their research. I am willing to know more about it, about them and about their results (and will be also willing to take part in it if there is a chance).
Some random thoughts before finishing:
- All the attendees (except me) were females, a demographic which is completely reverse to any other event on technology or cybersecurity that I have previously attended to. While I liked that, I could not help but wonder if the fact that the event was labelled as “feminist” not only encouraged women to come but also discouraged men to do so. If that was true, that’s definitely something we (men) need to address to understand that feminism is not something alien to us but also concerns us all.
- The organizers made a great effort on creating a safe-space where nobody could feel threatened or treated with contempt. In that regard, I found their approach on the topic of cybersecurity to be very appropriate given their context, goals and audience: instead of having an expert lecturing us on cybersecurity issues, we had a more peer-to-peer experience in which we all learnt from the others as equals. This is also novel in terms that usually cybersecurity issues are treated as common-sense rules which are anything but common and users are blamed by default for any “wrong” behaviour that can lead to security breaches.
- The place (Oxford’s Common Ground Workspace) provided just the right atmosphere for such an event.
- The pizzas were delicious! (probably that contributed to the fact that they were soon devoured).
- At a personal level, I also enjoyed the fact that my partner also attended to the workshop (in fact, it was her who told me about the workshop, so thank you for doing so!) and since she was in another group, we kept the conversation even after we left the workshop. This means not only that we both enjoyed it but that Reconfigure made a great job with their workshop, so thanks again for that!
I didn’t know about it when I signed up, and this was a very positive surprise. Since I have had the opportunity to design (and to take part into) an action-research project on urban mobility and disabilities (you can read about it here), I considered very positive to learn from other fellow colleagues who come from a very different context. ↩︎