Data privacy concerns of migrant domestic workers

King’s College London

New research paper published

Migrant domestic workers News story and event

Dr Ruba Abu-Salma, Lecturer in Computer Science in the Department of Informatics, is a co-author of a new research paper, “They Look at Vulnerability and Use That to Abuse You”: Participatory Threat Modelling with Migrant Domestic Workers. The paper was published at the prestigious UNENIX Security conference 2022 and looks at how migrant domestic workers feel about their digital privacy.

The research was carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Oxford and two organisations representing domestic workers, The Voice of Domestic Workers and Migrants Organise. It looked at the perceptions and concerns of people whose interests are often overlooked in research. It also produced a set of guidelines to help migrant workers stay safe.

The paper is based on five workshops carried out with migrant domestic workers in the UK. Participants listed government surveillance, scams and harassment, and employer monitoring (in this order) as the primary threats to their privacy and security. The authors also examined the methods participants used to stay safe online, such as configuring the privacy settings of their online accounts and creating on- and offline community support networks. A guide to digital security and privacy, drawn from the workshops, was published in 2021.

Ruba commented: “Researchers must consider broader social structures like gendered work that foster insecurity in the lives of migrant domestic workers, consider perspective of stakeholders who do not own technology devices but are affected by them, and reflect on how security research and practice can stop enabling harmful forms of surveillance. To do so, technical, social, and legal interventions are needed.”

King’s is a leading university in cybersecurity and privacy. Ruba works with the Cybersecurity Research Group in the Department of Informatics and with King’s Cybersecurity Centre. She also co-authored a paper at USENIX SOUPS’22, a conference co-located with USENIX Security’22, with collaborators at the International Computer Science Institute and University of California, Berkeley: “Balancing Power Dynamics in Smart Homes: Nannies’ Perspectives on How Cameras Reflect and Affect Relationships.” The paper shows how domestic childcare workers’ perceptions of smart home camera data collection, and their desire and ability to set conditions on data use and sharing, are affected by the power dynamics of employer-employee relationships.

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