On the Issues with Michele Goodwin

67. Feminizing Privacy: Women in Digital Spaces (with Danielle Citron and Jackie Rotman)


October 25, 2022

With Guests:

Danielle Citron: Professor Citron is the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenk distinguished professor in law at the University of Virginia law school, where she writes and teaches about privacy, free expression, and civil rights. She is also the author of the recently released book The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age.

Jackie Rotman: Jackie Rotman is the founder and CEO of the Center for Intimacy Justice (CIJ), a nonprofit organization focused on creating equity in people’s intimate lives. The CIJ is currently working to change policies, attack platforms to allow health ads to be more gender equitable, and allow more ads directed at women and people with vulvas.

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In this Episode:

On today’s show, we’re tackling issues women face in online spaces — from privacy to misogyny to censorship of women who use their voices to speak out, and more. We’re taking on the tech platforms and we’re talking about how women are fighting back.

Have a topic you’d like us to delve into, a guest recommendationor just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

Background reading:


00:00:05 Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine. We’re a show that reports, rebels, and tells it just like it is. On this show, we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. So, join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. Our show history matters. We examine the past as we think about the future.

Now on today’s show, we’re tackling issues of privacy, complications of online spaces for women, the misogyny of online policing against women using their voices on online platforms. We’re taking on the tech platforms and we’re talking about how women are fighting back. I couldn’t be more pleased than to be joined by Danielle Citron and Jackie Rotman. 

Professor Citron is the Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenk distinguished professor in law at the University of Virginia law school where she writes and teaches about privacy, free expression, and civil rights. Her latest book, and it is dynamic, make sure you get it in your hands, is The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age, and we recorded this episode just before the book came out. I was able to get my hands on it and my goodness what a powerful book it is. 

We’re also joined by Jackie Rotman. She’s the founder and CEO of the Center for Intimacy Justice, the CIJ, a nonprofit organization that’s focused on creating equity in people’s intimate lives. CIJ and Jackie Rotman are currently working to change policies, attack platforms to allow health ads to be more gender equitable and allow more ads directed at women and people with vulvas. I couldn’t be more pleased than to bring this episode to our listeners. 

So, I want to start off Danielle with talking about not just your first book but the book that led to this book because your scholarship has really set the stage for how we understand privacy, how we understand misogyny and how it interferes with privacy. You wrote a book called Hate Crimes in Cyberspace and it has been influential in changing the way that law enforcement and legislators addressed cyber harassment. So, could you set the stage for letting us know what cyber harassment actually happens to be and why did you write that book?

00:02:52 Danielle Citron:

Thank you so much for having me. This is a joy to talk to you both. So, cyber harassment is the targeting of a specific individual with a course of conduct that is not just once or twice but persistently in ways that cause severe emotional distress and often the fear of physical harm. It’s usually a perfect storm of rape and death threats, doxxing or the revelation of personal information and often including nude imagery. It includes defamation. 

So, reputation, harming lies and then sometimes technical attacks, so Distributed Denial of Service attacks which quite literally shove people offline or false reporting of people’s profiles as violations of terms of service rights, to remove them, to shut down or to mute them. It’s all of those things together.

00:03:48 Michele Goodwin:

So, Danielle, that would seem so obviously wrong. So obviously terrible. It raises the question why would you need to even write the book and why was law enforcement…I mean, because you helped to change the law…so, what was going on? Why is it that sort of exploiting people’s images and non-consensual pornography… help us to understand why that has actually been something that it was necessary to get law enforcement involved in and that it was necessary to get legislators involved in because that would seem like basic human decency. You don’t do those things.

00:04:29 Danielle Citron:

Absolutely. Right. You would assume that the response would be this is a serious problem. I’m going to help you and we’re going to figure out how law can accommodate and tackle these problems but victims would go to law enforcement and often the response, it sort of played it a number of ways but in many ways similar to the way that we trivialize workplace harassment and domestic violence in the 70s and 80s, which is the first you blame the victim. You’re like you shouldn’t have shared that nude photo. Why’d you piss off your ex? What did you do wrong?

00:05:02 Michele Goodwin:
Why’d you make the spaghetti with meatballs? Don’t you know that the spaghetti should not be made with meatballs.

00:05:07 Danielle Citron:
It should be warm. Perfect temperature. 

00:05:10 Michele Goodwin:

Exactly. The spaghetti was too cold, and you know that would push some buttons.

00:05:14 Danielle Citron:

So, of course it’s your fault, right. You weren’t the proper perfect housekeeper, right, to your spouse. The same responses that so often abused partners face was stunningly the same kinds of responses that victims heard and this would be in the late…like 2008 and seven I started working on these issues and individuals would come to me and usually the were women, women of color, LGBTQ individuals and they would say I went to law enforcement and the response was like it’s your fault, right. You clearly did something wrong. 

And then the next response, was sort of connected to it would be to trivialize it, which would to say okay it’s your fault and it’s no big deal. Turn your computer off. It’s like boys being boys. You can’t get so exercised. And the thing was, so often law enforcement would say ignore it. As if you could ignore people…

00:06:13 Michele Goodwin:

How are you going to ignore nude images of yourself online that people could Google and then find you everywhere? How do you ignore that?

00:06:13 Danielle Citron:

Right. The idea that Google is our CV is like completely lost on folks in the early I would say like 2008, 9, 10. The response that you could turn your computer off as if it was like a different place in space and as if you could just like ignore it.

00:06:41 Michele Goodwin:

Right. Don’t look at email. Right. What a dumb thing to say at the office. Just don’t use the internet.

00:06:47 Danielle Citron:

And don’t use social media. It was almost like it’s your fault, so just get off LinkedIn. Get off Facebook. Get off Twitter. Why make such a big deal about it, and often victims would then say but I have people calling me on my cellphone because my ex is impersonating me and saying that I’m interested in sex and available for sex and they’re coming to my house and banging on my door. I’m scared out of my mind. Still law enforcement would say but at least he didn’t post your home address. 

You’re like every kind of response was one more baffling than the next. So, in many ways so much of the work at the time was educative, was to bring the harm to the fore, to have people see the harm and the fullness of the harm to see how often it was sexually demeaning and sexually threatening and also racially demeaning and racially threatening that it followed a very similar playbook. So, not only were the victims often female or LGBTQ but also it was sexually demeaning and sexually threatening and at the same time much worse if you had browner skin, right. 

The Japanese American woman who I advised from Hawaii, like it was you Asian slut, and the Black woman who I advised it was the most vile racial epithets included with her home address, included with her nude photo that her ex revealed online, right, along with the identifying details of where she worked. So, it was this vile perfect storm in ways that was terrifying for victims.

00:08:30 Michele Goodwin:
Danielle I want to come back to this because there’s so much that I got from that. One, the sort of arcane framing and response. This sort of idea that this wasn’t physical. It’s just in this other space, so you don’t have to worry about this other space when this other space is a central part of people’s lives and then also pulling from the old playbook too of the response from the 1970s and the 80s, which is that you did this to yourself. Can’t you just modify your own behavior. Why are you triggering men to respond this way to you? 

I want to come back to that and also add to it the journey that it takes to do the work because it was a journey for you to do this work with law enforcement and legislators but I’m also curious what it was in terms of a journey amongst people in legal education to get them to understand the importance of this too. So, Jackie, you’ve also been on this journey with helping people to understand the importance of intimacy in the public space and that it should not be something that is demeaned or rejected but it comes from another space. 

So, what you’ve been trying to do is to make sure that women can have conversations online and learn about intimacy without your posts and the posts of other women being taken down, which is absolutely ironic because we’ve just heard about the fight that Danielle had to wage. Like she really has this one woman battle team battle force, and this is horrible stuff. This is abuse online. This is rape threats, death threats, whatnot. You see nonconsensual images being shared of women’s nude bodies and so forth and the response is well too bad. Just don’t turn on the internet. Just don’t use social media.

On the other hand, you’ve tried to educate women and people about their bodies, but you’ve received a different response. What’s that response been Jackie?

00:10:40 Jackie Rotman:
Yeah. And thank you so much for having me as well. It’s amazing to be in dialogue with both of you. So, in 2017 and 2018, those two years I started learning about this amazing field of women who are using entrepreneurship and technology to create businesses to address issues in our intimate lives. They were creating menopause products or pelvic pain products, but also sexual wellness products and it was such an inspiring field. When I talked with them, every single one of these women founders said that they couldn’t advertise on Facebook or Instagram. Their ads were being taken down.

00:11:17 Michele Goodwin:

Jackie, Jackie, Jackie. Let me just pause right there. You just said that women who wanted to share information about women’s bodies, biological information, information that’s helpful for women’s health, that information was being taken down. Am I right? Is that what you said?

00:11:38 Jackie Rotman:

Exactly. For half of them, their entire accounts were shut down. So, they would be blocked for eight months or nine months or sometimes indefinitely. They couldn’t access the most important channel for growing a business and it was already so brave of them to be creating businesses in a time where the MeToo Movement was just starting, and they were saying okay we deserve even more than women not experiencing violence. We deserve joy, and health, and pleasure. So, they were doing a service to all of us by trying to help but the business sector was putting so many barriers in their way.

00:12:21 Michele Goodwin:

You know, I’m wondering how do we reconcile these two stories, right? How does one reconcile on one hand Danielle telling us a story of a decade ago or just a little bit more, and I was there with her, I saw what she was seeking to do, and on the other hand, the story that you’re telling us today. I would love commentary from either of you. I’ll start with you Danielle. How does one reconcile this space at all?

00:12:50 Danielle Citron:

Right. It’s the ultimate power move. We’re going to coerce women’s expression. First post their nude photos online to humiliate and shame them and on somebody else’s decision, right. So, we’re in control of your sexual identity. We’re going to determine it and if you want to freely express yourself sexually and enjoy it and be incredibly helpful to other women, we’re going to say no, no, no. It’s only on our terms and we decide that’s not appropriate. 

So, it is ultimately the control over women’s expression and voices that’s at the heart of this and power over it, which we know why. The heart of it is misogyny, bigotry, invidious attitudes, right, that seems to me so obvious that this is what’s happening and it’s so depressing though of course Jackie in your work at the same time.

00:13:42 Jackie Rotman:
Definitely. It has so much to do with agency as well. Society wants women’s sexuality and women’s bodies to be controlled by other people. We can normalize rape and sexual violence but when women actually say okay we can take ownership of our own sexuality. We can have our own narratives. We can create businesses. Then it’s seen as inappropriate. 

So, the reason that Facebook was misclassifying women’s health and blocking it is that they called it adult products. It was seen as sexual, and at the same time, Hims and Rowe were started in 2017. They were raising money to solve erectile dysfunction and raising huge valuations and ads were allowed that said get hard or get your money back. That was fine. Those are still running.

00:14:29 Michele Goodwin:
No. So, get hard or get your money back. Okay. Stays up and evaluations go up and money is raised but women who are entrepreneurs, small business owners who are trying to enter spaces about women’s bodies, women’s pleasure, know your health, shut down. 

00:14:53 Jackie Rotman:


00:14:54 Michele Goodwin:

You founded the Center for Intimacy Justice. You’re the CEO of CIJ and it’s a non-profit organization that’s focused on creating equity in people’s intimate lives. Is that why you founded this organization?

00:15:13 Jackie Rotman:
It’s the first issue area we’ve taken on but I started it because it was a time where I think I was waking up in my mid 20s to seeing so many things that were wrong in our sexual culture on the whole spectrum of sexual violence and trauma and trauma not being understood but also wanting to have a sex positive part of my identity that said women also are experiencing inequity when it comes to pleasure and there’s so many different…I see you nodding. Yeah. Go ahead.

00:15:53 Michele Goodwin:

I want you to be able to finish but I’m nodding because we’re in the wake of Dobbs and I’m nodding because in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that cites lawyers from the 14, 15, 16 centuries that wrote about and seemingly supported the notion of coverture, which allowed for permissible marital rape. We’re talking about a legal culture embedded in American law have been principles that men can rape women without consequence. 

We’re talking about a history that up until the 1990s, right, the late 1980s, the early 1990s that men could permissibly rape their wives and not be criminally punished for it because of laws that shielded them from that because the notion was that women are subsumed within their husband’s identity and they have no independent legal identity, and looking explicitly at those legal records the notion was that a man can’t rape himself which basically suggests that a woman is really insignificant. 

And so, when I hear you and I’m nodding, you can see me, our audience can’t, yes, this notion of women having pleasure, of women being able to define and determine their own sexual journeys is something that has been nonexistent, a kind of like avoided in law. We have in law understood men and their sexual journeys but not that for women.

00:17:35 Jackie Rotman:

Exactly. There’s this amazing law journal article that’s one of my favorites that really inspired a lot of our values at Center for Intimacy Justice. It was by Catherine Frankie and I think 2001 or 2007 and she talks about how feminist law has done so much to talk about a woman’s right to saying no to sex but where are we she says on the conditions of women being allowed to say yes and she talks about how so many tort complaints around sexual dysfunction men file them at twice the rates of men but women’s sexual function is just seen as insignificant. Yeah.

00:18:12 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah. So, I want to bring Danielle back on that point. I mean, we see that in tort law. It’s origins, you know, laws that relate it to loss of consortium. You know that men could sue a third party who injured their wives because their wives would be sexually unavailable to them and unavailable to cook and clean for them. So, men could actually reclaim off of injury to their wives because they somehow are put out by that. So, Danielle, you know, again, this history, how do we understand the arc of this history in American law and what’s been the journey to dismantle it for you?

00:18:58 Danielle Citron:

Just thinking about all of the avenues that are often unavailable to victims of intimate privacy violations and stalking and harassment and in part some of the story is a practical story which is it’s really expensive to sue. And so, even if law would recognize the privacy tort of public disclosure of private factor and intentional infliction of emotional distress, it’s theoretically possible to sue but practically difficult and we don’t have any deep pockets thanks to section 230 of the decency act, which means you can’t sue the platform. 

They’re immune, shielded from legal responsibility for user generated content, and the theory was that you’re supposed to be a good samaritan and if you were a good samaritan then you’ve earned that legal shield, but courts have wildly interpreted it, so that even sites that solicit, encourage, make money off of nonconsensual pornography and other intimate privacy violations and stalking, they enjoy immunity from responsibility and continue to enjoy immunity from responsibility. 

So, in many ways, tort law doesn’t operate because it’s sort of out of reach practically speaking, and the one really sort of…I find I wish that the privacy torts could have taken off and provided a vehicle for redress. Jessica Lake has written this amazing book about the early uses of the privacy tort, and they were winning trying to claim the plaintiffs. She went through all the litigation of cases from the 1890s and early 1900s, that right to privacy that Warren and Brandeis write about. 

They tried to reclaim their identities and sexual expression on their own terms and often the courts would reframe it and sort of in this very paternalistic way describe what they were suing for, that they needed to be coddled, right, rather than the way the described it in their own complaints. That is, they wanted to determine for themselves how their sexual identity and their faces were so portrayed. 

So, in a way, Warren and Brandeis that those torts have been unavailable practically speaking because you don’t have a deep pocket. You can’t sue. The torts have been sort of ossified and narrowed to four torts that often just don’t lead the moment and you can’t sue because you don’t have money. 

So, the work that Mary Ann Franks and I did at the cyber civil rights initiative was an effort to at least have criminal law come into the space and to change the laws around the country with regard to the nonconsensual posting of intimate images, and I’ve been working on trying to widen the lens. That is for us to see comprehensively that is the awarism up skirt photos, down blouse photos, sextortion, deep fake sex videos, non-consensual porn as part of one problem, that it’s all intimate privacy that’s an issue. Denial of autonomy. 

As Jackie was saying, the undermining of self-esteem and social esteem or dignity and the inability to have love relationships after your trust has been betrayed. So, we have a lot of work to do. You said like how is that going? You said how has law been? That was a long answer but…

00:22:28 Michele Goodwin:
No. It was a needed answer because that’s also a bit of a journey and I think it’s important that people understand that your McArthur Genius Awardee Fellow, right. You do such brilliant, important work and yet it has been a journey to educate law makers. Your name came up at the White House recently when I was there with the Vice President. She said that she learned so much from you when you were helping here when she was the state’s attorney general here in California. That’s been real work, and I think that it’s important that these have not been easy journeys. 

And so, Jackie I want to hear from you what has it been like since you’ve started CIJ? What have been the efforts made by your organization to make changes in this space? We heard that Danielle had to really try to tackle this through the criminal law and made advancements. You know, what’s been the strategy that you’ve taken up to expand these spaces for women?

00:23:34 Jackie Rotman:

Yeah. The first thing we did was we put information to the problem and made it visible. So, we did a study that we released in January of this year 2022 that talked about how of 60 companies we surveyed on this issue, you know, 58 of which were led by women, two were led by non-binary people all in women’s health. Every single one of them 100 percent had had an ad taken down for the areas of health we talked about. Every single one. And 50 percent of them had their accounts suspended. 

So, I was actually surprised to see how much happened just from putting that information out because it was something we all knew in the women’s health entrepreneurial space but people in DC in policy didn’t know. So, we published that report in New York Times and several other media outlets and we were so excited to see the response. Senator Patty Murray took on the issue with the U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. 

Hilary Clinton tweeted about it which brought visibility to it but also was a source of hope and inspiration because so many people that were not seen on this issue for the past 10, 15 plus years felt seen and it mattered emotionally for people in this space. And then our next step, we’ve been researching for about two and a half years working with the Harvard cyber law clinic and an amazing lawyer there named Jessica Fjeld. We’ve been looking at what are the legal paths to creating change on this. 

So, we looked at shareholder activism, lawsuits, federal trade commission complaints, and it seems that Facebook is not going to create changes based on the media and even congressional pressure alone, which I really believed if it got in the New York Times article they’d just fix it because they’d make more money.

00:25:23 Michele Goodwin:
Just a shout out for your article, vaginas deserve giant ads too. 

00:25:30 Jackie Rotman:

We have the gender editor at the New York Times Alicia Whitmire who is just genius. I spoke with so many other people, but she picked the title, but it got a lot of clicks. That was for a 2019 article and then there was another one this year that was written by Valeriya Safronova, but thanks for the shout out on that title. It was a really smart choice of hers, but we’re now figuring out okay how can we get the government to enforce change because Facebook isn’t doing it alone. Now we’re sending out report to attorneys general and the FTC and asking them to create change.

00:26:06 Danielle Citron:

Jackie we have work together to do. Like second two thirty, bless you Michele for putting us together. Like this was fated or meant to be. This is why Michele is a genius. She’s one of the most talented humans I’ve ever met in my entire life.

00:26:22 Jackie Rotman:

That’s amazing.

00:26:23 Danielle Citron:

Thank you for putting us together because Jackie we have some work to do.

00:26:26 Jackie Rotman:
I’m so excited. I’m so stoked.

00:26:29 Danielle Citron:

This is precisely the kinds of problems we have thanks to section 230 that’s almost impossible for state AGs and I love them, right. Michele knows with having worked with AG Harris, then-AG Harris and studying state AGs as privacy policy makers. They can’t do anything thanks to section 230. I’m so excited. I just in my head cooked up work we’re going to do together. 

00:26:52 Jackie Rotman:
I’m so excited. I love that.

00:26:54 Michele Goodwin:

You know, I think about the urgency of both the work that you do and when I turn to your new your forthcoming book Danielle, but I think about this in the wake…it’s so good, right. So good. In the wake of the dismantling of reproductive privacy, reproductive autonomy, equality, how will women come to know, girls come to know about their bodies? It’s actually really important when you have school districts now banning sex education or abstinence only education. 

Young boys can easily find pornography online. Children can generally but I hear from so many parents about their nine, 10 year old sons looking at the most harmful of pornographic images. You hear from young women who have been injured in sex because their partners expect them to do the kinds of things that they’ve been looking at for the last five or six years since they were little boys of the sort of gymnastics, kind of inconsistent reality that’s found in pornography that caters to men and you know without girls having a sense of well what’s the biology of their bodies? What does healthy pleasure seem like, look like without understanding the geography of their bodies and you just really see kind of grave inconsistency that folds from all of this.

00:28:41 Danielle Citron:

It’s amazing the kinds of education that we need versus the kinds of education that we can provide but in this environment…in my book I talk about we need to, and I’m echoing some of Martha Nussbaum’s ideas that we need to educate young boys about understanding themselves and the powers of compassion right rather than dominance, that is often these narratives of dominance pervade lots of just peer education of boys but what we’re being told now in the wake of Dobbs is that any conversations about women’s sexual autonomy is kind of off the table. 

We can’t talk about terminating pregnancies, right, and as you said so well, where we’re going to figure out who we are as sexual beings. Like Jackie’s work tells us that women’s speech about their own autonomy enhancing speech about whether it’s cool products for women in menopause. Those are being taken offline. You got as Michele reminds us what remains is porn, and often on a lot of these adult sites it’s not consensual pornography. It’s of rapes of young people. 

00:29:56 Michele Goodwin:

Of young people, right, of young boys and young girls and there’s so much that’s implicated within the context of this that’s not associated. So, oftentimes sort of these are kind of fringe women’s issues that only a small percentage of women are concerned about, those deep left feminists. Otherwise, everybody is satisfied with these spaces and that’s just simply not correct and there has been a real journey to try to educate and inform lawmakers and this implicates the first amendment. 

I mean there are other ways in which law should come to bear in these spaces when there is the banning of speech and it’s being directed selectively at women. When there are people who are disempowered from being able to speak freely and they happen to be people who come from vulnerable communities because they’re people of color. They’re LGBTQ. It’s so much of that is wrapped into this. So, I’m wondering then Danielle what The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age and it will be released in October. So, the first thing, can people preorder now? I’m sure they can.

00:29:56 Danielle Citron:
Yes. They can. Yes. So, at www.nortonandpenguinuk. It’s available for preorder. It’s available preorder at Amazon and a lot of independent book sellers. So, it’s going to be soon out in the world, but October fourth and you can totally preorder. I hope people do.

00:31:27 Michele Goodwin:

They will. All of our listeners right now check out Danielle’s book. You can preorder it right now. So, all right. So, we understand the urgency of this book. I mean, the timing, you’re a genius. You’re so prescient, right. So, the Fight for Privacy, Protecting Dignity and Identity and Love, and all of that comes together. I understand it. Jackie understands it and I think many people do but you’re trying to educate people about why privacy and love and intimacy and identity all come together and collectively need to be protected. Tell us a bit about that.

00:32:23 Danielle Citron:

Right. So, the privacy around our bodies, our health, our minds, our relationships, our sexual orientation, sexual activity, our gender, you know, that kind of privacy is not only a foundational value but it’s a foundational value not for us alone but for us together. So, the kind of privacy and confidentiality the way that we manage and the boundaries around our lives involves of course individuals sharing experiences with each other and being discreet and trusting each other to keep it confidential. 

It also involves companies, companies that enable our sexual expression, our love, our communications, our dating, right, all the ways we use health apps, all of that intimate information, I want us to engage in all that expression. I am no technophobe. I wanted my kids to use dating apps to get all that we can that’s available to us, but the problem is that the commitment from companies to individuals is not one of a compact of privacy. It’s almost anti privacy as my colleague Woody Hartzog would describe in terms of service, you know, privacy policies and we lack protection both for companies and our relationships with them. 

I want that relationship to be protected, so that we can get the most out of their tools and services, right, but right now it’s not. Our information can be hand over fist collected, hand over fist used and shared and sold, right, to data brokers, and then so provided to law enforcement. So, my book was pre-Dobbs, has gone to the printer pre Dobbs. You know what I mean. 

00:34:06 Michele Goodwin:

That’s how prescient she is. 

00:34:09 Danielle Citron:

But all the ways that our intimate information can be weaponized against us, not only by individuals, privacy invaders who torment us and make it impossible to work and to play and to love by posting our nude photos online or secretly taping us in the bedroom. Not only by companies who betray and aren’t loyal to us by hocking our intimate information to data brokers and then in turn to employers, life insurers, but also then to governments, and governments that in many countries, right, in my book it’s the global story of intimate privacy. So, governments who want to silence dissenters. 

Use that information to blackmail and extort because they got their grinder information. But now governments who are going to jail women for exercising their reproductive freedom. And so, the implications of the ways in which data handmaidens like the pass off of our intimate information impairs. It’s so important. So, I argue in the book that we should understand intimate privacy as a fundamental right and crucially as a civil right. 

That is a right that each and every one of us enjoys as well as protection against structural discrimination because we know there’s no doubt about it that women, that people of color, that LGBTQ individuals, their intimate information is most costly to them. It’s their bodies that are stigmatized and viewed as diseased and structurally unprotected. 

And so, we need both, right. Everyone, I think everyone deserves a right to intimate privacy, to love, to develop ourselves, to be our authentic who we are but we need special protection for the most vulnerable because that’s who the loss of privacy most bites.

00:35:58 Michele Goodwin:

So, what’s the likelihood? So much of the work that we do is aspirational, right, and yet it’s urgent because you tell really urgent stories in the book, and I’m wondering in the wake of Dobbs, you wrote the book pre Dobbs. I’m wondering in the wake of Dobbs just what your sense is in terms of that arc of justice and reaching that space we’re all hoping to get to. 

00:36:35 Danielle Citron:

Yeah. So, I’m not a Pollyanna I promise. You know I’m like ebullient person, but I know that what we’re up against, right, but what has been encouraging is that since Dobbs dropped I’ve been working with Senator Warren’s office and Representative Sara Jacobs office to protect to prevent the sale of health and location data and health not HIPPA protected health. Health meaning period tracking apps, your cellphone, your Fitbit, all the information about our bodies and our reproductive sort of health and choices and conditions that is unprotected by HIPPA. So much of it is unprotected by HIPPA because it’s collected by private companies and by individuals. So, providing it to private companies and data brokers. 

And so, I guess what I would say is I know I should say all legislation is doom. That we should be gloomy but perhaps not, right. That is, we’re seeing efforts on the hill, Senate and House side to protect the sale of intimate information, and I think we also need to pass the Fourth Amendment is not for sale Act, which means you need a warrant. You’re going to get this really intimate information, you can’t buy it. Right now, it can be easily bought by data brokers, and they sell to the government. Law enforcement has the biggest contracts with data brokers. They just buy it now. 

00:37:59 Michele Goodwin:

We see that with mugshots, right. Something that otherwise people would have had to go to the county clerk’s office in that county, know the name to search, or just spend all day long searching and then find it and have to go through doing all that work, but those mugshots easily online and there’s some people what might say this is what you deserve but that was never the purpose of a mugshot. I mean, we see so much in terms of what is data online that was never intended for those purposes including within the criminal justice space or what some people might call an injustice space.

So, I mean, I don’t think that it’s necessarily Pollyanna-ish Danielle at all because there must be a way in which we envision the brighter day. I think that that is what’s key to the work that both of you do, right. It is envisioning what should be the standard, what should be the brighter day. How do we conceive that and how do we give tools to others to be able to help get us there.

00:39:09 Danielle Citron:

At the ready, right. At the ready. That’s what we’re doing is to have these tools at the ready, so when lawmakers finally see it and more broadly not just Senator Warren and not just Representative Sara Jacobs, but like all together that they’re there, that we can seize upon those tools, right. 

00:39:28 Michele Goodwin:

And they understand that there’s something at stake in this for them too. I mean, that’s one of the challenges perhaps sometimes in these spaces when we think about them in the conversation that we’ve had. There’s been a lot of male dominance in these spaces. That’s just simply what it is, right. I mean, that’s empirically what it’s been in our legislative spaces, right. 

We’re breaking records now, but we still don’t have the federal representation of women of other countries. We rank somewhere like between 68 and 78 in the world in terms of federal representation of women, that is women who are elected to the highest offices in Congress compared with other countries around the world. We see that with our judiciary as well. 

And so, trying to convey as you both have in your work, in your research, to understand what’s been embedded in so many of these spaces have been harms or harmful to vulnerable people and especially women. That’s been its own journey and then of course it’s been on you when it shouldn’t necessarily have to be on you to help then chart. This is where law could go if law were to be more empathetic, if law were to be more equal, if law were to be more just in these spaces, right, this is what it would look like. 

And so, Jackie, I’m getting to that point where I begin to ask about a silver lining, right. What do we see sort of going forward but before we get there Jackie, I want to ask you then just what’s been next on your agenda, right. Is it a legislative approach that you’re looking to take with what it is you’re trying to do expanding the horizon for women to be able to be online, affirmatively about women’s bodies. What’s the approach?

00:41:27 Jackie Rotman:

We’ve already brought so many new people and eyes to this issue from releasing information about the problem and what’s happening in over 70 media outlets, which led to Senator Patty Murray and the Senate HELP Committee taking action and led to tweets from politicians like Hillary Clinton. So we’ve already elevated this issue in the public that had previously been unseen by so many. 

With, you know, with the next steps, our hope is that Facebook will create change from all of that pressure and this information being compiled in one place. But if that’s not enough to lead them to change, then we have other tools in our toolkit. We would likely file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and ask the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to take action on this issue because it is so crucial for so many people who are impacted. And we also can take other legal avenues. We’ve begun to educate state attorneys general so that they can be equipped with our research and our investigatory tools we give them about this problem. And they can also take action at the state level, legally. 

So there are a lot of different avenues to create change, in addition to communications campaigns that can bring together different influencers and different voices and individuals to to call on change at these companies and encourage the government to help government agencies to help us. 

We’re also super passionate about continuing cultural change. So many of these tech policies, while algorithmic are also embedded in in relationship with cultural conversations and what people believe and understand and know. So we’re really passionate about inviting and developing, contributing to creating cultural conversations about topics like women’s pleasure, or wellbeing in intimacy justice and creating dialogue and information to move the cultural conversation because changing tech policies and tech practices that have impact on billions of people is one critical element of our work. But another is changing minds and hearts, in the public spheres and in conversation, and so we’re continuing to really grow out our culture change work very intentionally, strategically and with a lot of passion as one of the next areas of our work.

00:43:13 Michele Goodwin:

I think that that’s critically important because when Danielle began doing this work she was really the person doing the work and really bringing attention to these issues and spaces where it was inconceivable to take the approaches that she was arguing for and she prevailed, and I think that there’s a broader message for so many who are listening in whether they happen to be academics, activists, legislators, legislative aids, and that is to not give up and to not stop and that this is work that is a journey. 

It’s not necessarily instantaneous. Sometimes it’s more of a marathon than a sprint but it also says something too about doing smart work as well and I think that Danielle’s approach to her work and Jackie your approach to your work has just been so robust and so smart, and I compliment you both on that. 

00:44:21 Danielle Citron:

Thank you so much. Back at you friend. 

00:44:23 Michele Goodwin:

Yeah. So, we reached this point in our show where I ask about a silver lining, and I think that there’s so many to be found with your work. I think there’s so many synergies between the work that you both do. I think that there’s so much to be said about the human rights agenda that is bound and found within your work and with this new book too Danielle. I love the articulation of that which is so powerful. 

So, in light of Dobbs, in light of the times that we’re in and the encroachments on so many rights that people hold dear that our constitution establishes and that we thought were settled, what’s the silver lining for folks? And I’ll start with you Jackie.

00:45:15 Jackie Rotman:

Well, one thing that I thought about with the silver lining in the odd equality space is we’re building all this organizing power of hundreds of organizations and businesses that even if we solve this issue we have all this connected, all these systems for connectivity that can then continue to the next fights. After we had this big media release of this issue in January, we could have then filed an FTC complaint in March and we didn’t. 

We spent months investing in softwares to create databases of hundreds of groups, so that when we did do our next big major issue, we can easily organize with hundreds of groups. It was very like not sexy but that organizing power we then are connected where we can work together. We can have funding systems of being able to solve other problems and their relationships that have been built in this space, you know, a lot of people like I want to work with 20 years from now where we can do so much more together. 

One other piece I’ll say is there’s this woman Paulie Rodriguez who’s a close partner and advisor to Center for Intimate Justice. She started Unbound but she talks about competitors where you’re working directly with your direct competitors because her quote is our biggest competitor isn’t each other. 

Our biggest competitor is the systemic issues that are holding us all back and being able to work together with our competitors and look forward and partner is what inspires me because at the end of the day, our work is about power. It’s about how do you build power to overthrow a system where a more powerful company institution is holding us back, and we’re building power through organizing together and it will enable many more fights as well.

00:47:09 Michele Goodwin:

Jackie, thank you so much for that because power is critically important and we could have a whole additional episode on just thinking about power and association with the work that you both do and how critically important it is, right. Danielle, the silver lining that you see coming forward in light of the fight for privacy.

00:47:39 Danielle Citron:

So, it’s going to resonate so much with what Jackie said and I’m going to recruit Jackie to include me in those networks of joint fight together. What we’ve seen at Cyber Civil rights Initiative is we’re joining together with EPIC, the electronic privacy information center, like ways to bring together our forces, and I think Jackie too that we should partner CCRI and Center for Intimate Justice and we can bring it to companies. 

So, I’ve been working closely with Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, Bumble, you know, like now TikTok and I think that we should bring all of our forces together to pressure them because it sounds to me that in this post-Dobbs moment with all of these Silicon Valley employers saying we want to support our employees. We’ll fly you to places, all this sort of what did they say it’s gesturing, right, to solidarity and equality. Well, let’s make them pay for it. Let them be serious I mean, this inequality things…

00:48:45 Jackie Rotman:

…working with them it seems like. It’s like they won’t even take our calls. 

00:48:51 Danielle Citron:
I got you because we got to do this together. The ad equality piece is so profound, right, and it’s so obscured because you’re studying is so important to bring visibility to it and it’s almost impossible otherwise, right. Like these are opaque systems. So, unless you have the mark up, you have like data journalists on your case with you no one knows, right. And so, let’s think of ways to bring this issue not only to lawmakers but also to companies and press that change together.

00:49:25 Michele Goodwin:

Wow. This has been my pleasure to be with both of you, Professor Danielle Citron and Jackie Rotman. Thank you so much for joining us for this very important episode of On the Issues.

00:49:42 Danielle Citron:

It was so meaningful to be with both of you. Thank you so much.

00:49:46 Jackie Rotman:

Doctor Goodwin, you’re a genius connecting and bringing this conversation together.

00:49:50 Michele Goodwin:
Thank you so much. Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine. I want to thank each of you for tuning in for the full story and engaging with us. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where you know we’ll be reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. 

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This has been your host Michele Goodwin. Reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spillar are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug and also Allison Whelan. Our social media content producer is Sophia Panigrahi. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Natalie Holland and music by Chris J. Lee.