Technology plays a significant role in community building—especially for historically marginalized groups. Women use apps to track all sorts of things, including their periods (nearly a third of all women in the US); the LGBTQ+ community uses apps to meet like-minded people; and activists campaigning via democratic means use social media and messaging apps to attract attention for petitions.
However, those rights are now under threat in the US. For instance, police surveillance during Black Lives Matters protests across the United States forced activists to switch to encrypted messaging apps to avoid targeting while they exercised their right to 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-party entities, with potential dangerous implications for the LGBTQIA+ community who may face persecution because of their sexual orientation. And most recently, moments after the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, calls to delete period-tracking apps went viral with people concerned that the data they collect may end up incriminating them.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in particular has brought the lack of privacy protections in the US to the forefront of conversation. It demonstrates how law enforcement officials can access incriminating data on location, internet searches, and communication history. There are growing concerns that this data has the potential to be weaponized and used as “evidence” in states where abortion is illegal. In Nebraska, for example, a teenager and her mother are facing criminal charges for allegedly inducing an abortion, after Facebook released their private messages upon request from an investigator.
Anytime you minimize a right, the impacts fall most on the people who come from minority groups. The Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t mean that the only thing in danger is a woman’s physical body—it’s a greater attack on minorities, civil rights, and their entire digital footprint. It hurts women, people of color, people with lower incomes, the LGBTQIA+ community, and more. The willingness of the court to overturn precedent could suggest other federally protected rights of minorities may be in jeopardy too, such as same-sex marriage.
The US and EU differ in their approach to data protection due to the General Data Protection Regulation. The legislation, which was enacted by the European Union in 2018 (the UK has a similar regulation drafted after Brexit called UK-GDPR), is one of the toughest privacy and security laws in the world. It enhances how people can access information about them and limits what organizations can do with personal data. In short, your data is safer.
With fewer data privacy laws in the US, in 2023, EU-founded companies will see an uptick in users from the US, because GDPR applies to how a European company uses your data, wherever you are based.
GDPR is a term most people would not have heard of a few years ago, but in 2023 it will be the first thing they’ll look for when considering joining an app. The US has no such federal law, rather a patchwork of state- and industry-specific privacy laws. While President Biden’s office will issue a guide for consumers on how to protect personal data on mobile apps, this is not nearly enough.
The US is operating in a blurred and dangerous middle ground, and until the country has clear guidelines and protections, minorities and those in marginalized communities are going to feel safer using apps that are rooted in the EU.