In today’s interconnected, global economy, Internet access is fundamental to providing equal opportunities and creating community connections. That’s why promoting such access is critical to the mission of the Filipina Women’s Network. But it is just as important—if not more so—that we also feel safe when we go online.
The Internet is full of spaces that openly objectify or demonize Filipina women and other minority groups. It’s hard to feel safe when you’re faced with the kind of hate and vitriol that exists and even thrives in some corners of the Internet. Unfortunately, the data collection activities and “privacy” policies of many tech companies are only making things worse.
As the ever-unfolding Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandals clearly demonstrate, all is not well—or safe—in the online environment. Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies regularly mine, collect, and sell off our private data with virtually no repercussions or accountability—turning a tidy profit while potentially exposing tens of millions of users’ personally identifiable information to all-too-common data security breaches.
But that’s not all these actions expose Filipina women to. Such practices have also made it easier than ever to locate, harass, intimidate, and threaten us as well. Our leaders in Washington, D.C. must get serious about Internet policy and privacy—they should start with codifying a uniform set of rights for online consumers.
From creating longer, unique passwords to keeping software and firewalls up to date, there are many things we all can and should do to help create a safer online experience and minimize the risk of exposing ourselves. But taking data security into our own hands can only go so far. This is a problem that requires a more comprehensive and lasting solution.
When I founded FWN in 2001, I sought in part to counter the predominant stereotypes of Filipina woman that I saw popularized online. Since then, I’ve made it my mission to empower my strong, resilient sisters to write their own stories by giving them the tools to succeed in whatever their pursuits may be—entrepreneurial, educational, employment, or otherwise. Today, the good work we have done over nearly two decades is at risk because of the unethical practices of the darling companies of Silicon Valley.
It’s time for Congress to craft and pass legislation that applies to all Internet companies in order to create a framework for a safe, transparent, and open Internet that strengthens access and protects privacy for all users. By doing so, Congress can help foster a safer online environment that protects consumers from all the threats they face online, while helping to ensure the kind of robust access necessary to thrive in the modern world.
Marily Mondejar is the CEO of the Filipina Women’s Network, a San Francisco–based, global non-profit advocating to increase the power and influence of Filipina women as leaders at all levels of society.