Hands off our data: Effects of an online privacy literacy intervention on individual and collective privacy protection
Awarded 2023
Emerging Scholars in Family Planning
Gwen Petro, MA
University of California, Santa Barbara

The internet is a key source of information on family planning, especially for those in areas with limited contraceptive access or abortion restrictions. However, it is difficult to engage in any online activity without leaving behind a digital footprint, thereby risking one’s privacy. Many people lack sufficient knowledge and skills to protect their privacy online, or they believe that attempts to keep their personal information private will be ineffective, resulting in the somewhat fatalistic and limited use of privacy protective behavior. Meanwhile, institutions such as private corporations and the government enjoy nearly unrestricted access to and use of people’s personal data. This is especially problematic in the post-Roe era, where anti-abortion organizations may target people with predatory messages, and states restricting abortion may use people’s online behavior as evidence of aiding or receiving an illegal abortion, thereby preventing people from accessing necessary healthcare. As a PhD candidate in the communication department at UC Santa Barbara, Gwen Petro’s research explores how people disclose and protect their health information online. For her dissertation, she is using social science theory to design an online privacy literacy intervention intended to motivate people who menstruate to engage in individual and collective approaches to protecting their reproductive health information. She will experimentally test the effectiveness of this intervention with a diverse sample of Americans of reproductive age. In doing so, she hopes to develop a greater understanding of the factors that shape online privacy protection to generate solutions protecting at-risk groups in today’s complex information environment.