Online safety tech failing women

Online safety tech failing women

Bridging the Gender Gap in Online Safety: Why Women Engage Less With Security and Privacy Tech

Cyber Security

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From cybersecurity breaches to online harassment, the digital world presents a myriad of risks. In an effort to protect themselves, individuals often turn to security and privacy technologies. However, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at King’s College London, there exists a significant gender gap in the utilization of these tools. Led by Dr. Kovila Coopamootoo, the study sheds light on the differences in online safety habits between men and women.

The research, based on a survey of 600 participants, comprised an equal proportion of men and women. Surprisingly, the data revealed that women, despite being more vulnerable to cyber abuse, engage far less with security and privacy tech than their male counterparts. Over 75% of women relied on advice from family and friends (intimate and social connections, or ISC) for their online safety customs, while less than 24% of men followed this approach. In contrast, around 70% of men sought advice from online sources, such as forums and specialist pages, compared to just 35% of women.

Although seeking advice from trusted individuals, like cousin Luke, who happens to be a cybersecurity buff, may seem reasonable, the researchers caution against relying solely on ISC. These sources may lack the necessary expertise to provide accurate or helpful information. Furthermore, the study highlighted that the wealth of cyber security knowledge available on the internet is not effectively reaching the female population.

Gender Norms and Online Safety

The study also revealed that women were less likely to embrace a wide range of online safety tools. Women showed limited engagement with technologies such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), multi-factor authentication, firewalls, anti-spyware, anti-malware, and anti-tracking measures. Instead, they relied more on simpler security measures like software updates and strong passwords.

Dr. Coopamootoo emphasized, “Women make up over 50% of the population yet they’re not able to effectively engage with digital safety advice and security/privacy technologies.” This gender gap in access and participation underscores the role that gender norms play in online safety and how gender identity impacts one’s ability to stay safe online.

Increasing Gender Equality and Fairness in Online Safety

The research, presented at the Usenix Security Symposium, identified several recommendations for developers and policymakers to foster inclusivity in digital safety. These recommendations include:

  1. Providing trustworthy support in accessible language to navigate complex harm situations.
  2. Tailoring advice to threatening situations that women commonly face online.
  3. Equipping women and girls with the necessary digital skills to comprehend online safety protocols.

However, it is crucial to design advice and technology that can be used by anyone, regardless of their skill level. Optimal protection should be accessible to all.

Dr. Coopamootoo emphasized the need for action to achieve greater gender equity in online safety opportunities, access, participation, and outcomes. She stated, “This requires re-envisaging the current models that don’t best serve women so that we can make the online experience safer and fairer for everyone.”

Gender-based cyber violence is an escalating concern with profound implications on both individual and societal levels. Beyond the toll it takes on mental health and quality of life, a separate study commissioned by the European Parliament in 2021 estimated the costs of cyber harassment and cyber stalking of women in Europe to range between €49 billion and €89.3 billion.

Cyber Harassment

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As we navigate the digital era, it is imperative to bridge the gender gap in online safety. By acknowledging the disparities in engagement with security and privacy tech, we can work towards a safer and fairer online ecosystem. Reimagining current models, tailoring advice, and providing accessible resources will empower women to protect themselves effectively. Let us strive for a future where everyone, regardless of gender, can navigate the digital world with confidence and security.