“Ideally, you should be aware of what you’re signing up for when you use new apps,” says Apar Gupta, executive director at Internet Freedom Foundation, an Indian digital liberties organisation. By this, he means you should be aware of the app or platform that allows a user to record conversations, take screenshots, or save photographs and videos without your knowledge. “One way to check this is to read about the company that owns the app, where you’re either sharing photos or meeting over video, and find out if it is a responsible vendor,” Gupta says.

There are some apps that are better than others for sexting. WhatsApp, according to FII, is not entirely suitable. “For any app that you use, you should also see if the chats are backed up, where this data is stored. Or does it have time-limited information that self-destructs, like in the case of Snapchat,” Gupta recommends.

In most cases, the default setting for WhatsApp is to directly save photographs and videos to one’s gallery. Apps like Signal, Snapchat, Dust, and Confide perform better on standards of privacy, according to FII.

Keep an eye on the tech

Since you are using new technology, it’s helpful to familiarise yourself with what data it stores. While sending photos, scrape that metadata off your files. This data often contains details of your location, device, date and time stamp. Platforms like Exif Photo Editor, according to FII, can fix this for you.

Open source platforms have a better matrix of security, according to Gupta. “These, like video-calling platform Jitsi, have their code available for assessment. So it’s easy to find privacy flaws in these apps and fix them,” says Gupta. Ethical hackers, of course, can also reverse engineer proprietary apps to expose privacy flaws, but it takes significantly longer than it does with open-source software. In this aspect, a Jitsi would be safer to use than something like Zoom, Gupta says.

Know when to stop

It is also important to understand your own threat matrix while dating online or sexting. For instance, Gupta says that activists, journalists, lawyers, etc, can be particularly exposed to their data and photos being misused. Such people should exercise greater than usual caution.

And yet, your experience of an online intimate conversation could sometimes be less-than-pleasant. It’s best to identify these signs early. “Sending unsolicited pictures is abuse. Insisting on sending them and asking again and again if someone has already said no—that’s intimidation or even harassment,” says Tiwari.

“Use a platform that doesn’t require someone to know your address or phone number. This works with someone who you haven’t ever met before,” she adds. That way, if a person starts getting abusive, you can block them easily and eliminate the risk of them invading your privacy in future.

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