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A Privacy Expert Explains Who's Really Watching Your Video Chat Sex

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The internet has always been about sex. But these days, it’s really about sex — Zoom sex parties, Instagram strip clubs, non-stop sexting. Video chat mutual masturbation for everyone! But for every site that isn’t explicitly for sharing sexual content, there's a policy against sharing sexual content. Most of these platforms have had those policies in place for years, with many ramping up monitoring and censorship with 2018's passage of SESTA/FOSTA. But in the age of social distancing, when people are flocking to chat rooms at an extra horny rate, how strictly are these sites being monitored? Who’s really tracking your dirty activity online?

Facebook, the world's largest social network, sent their virtual army of content moderators home, but not to work from home. According to the Washington Post, Facebook considers the work “too sensitive” to be done from people’s homes and, therefore, switched to artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor activity on the platform during the pandemic.

So, what does that mean, exactly? Firstly, it means that a lot of content that wouldn’t normally be flagged is getting flagged and taken down, as AI is still more of a blunt instrument than a human moderator. (For example, an article about bikinis to buy this summer might get tagged because the AI confused the image for something "sexually explicit.") It also means that there aren’t as many sheriffs minding the town square. In other words: You might be able to get away with a little more sexy sharing in public than usual, or you might get flagged for something totally innocuous.

But one area of Facebook that isn’t monitored by the company is any private messaging, including direct messages (DMs) on Instagram, which are encrypted. But Jen McEwen, the director of marketing for the Avast Secure Browser, tells Bustle that no one should assume Facebook can’t monitor those features.

“They can monitor, if they wanted to, the contents of your communications and chats,” McEwen says. “But they choose not to.”

What Facebook can and certainly does monitor is anything shared openly on the site, including any out links. That means if you post a link to your OnlyFans account, McEwen says, they’re going to know and may flag it for violating their terms of service. Facebook has not responded to a request for comment at the time of this article’s publication.

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When it comes to the tech darling of the pandemic — Zoom — it’s a little trickier to figure out exactly who, what, and how they’re monitoring user activity. Zoom came under fire in early April for their less than stellar privacy and encryption practices. Their own words about monitoring sexual content have been contradictory since then. According to their Reasonable Use Policy, “displays of nudity,” “pornography,” and “sexually explicit material” aren’t allowed on the platform. But when it comes to monitoring that type of activity, their privacy policy says that “Zoom does not monitor your meetings or its contents.”

But then, a Zoom spokesperson told Rolling Stone that the app uses “a mix of tools, including machine learning” to catch people violating their policies on nudity and “indecent” material. All of which to say: It doesn’t seem like even Zoom knows what they’re doing to monitor sexual activity on their platform. So, how can you know?

McEwen says that while she can’t say for certain whether or not Zoom is actively monitoring the content of users’ calls, she’d be “really surprised” if they were. “No one wants to get caught doing that,” she says. Zoom has not responded to a request for comment at the time of this article’s publication.

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If you’re one of the many, many people communicating with lovers via the internet right now, there are steps you can take to protect your privacy. McEwen recommends utilizing a virtual private network (VPN), which is a tool that encrypts all of the data that passes between your computer and your internet service provider (ISP). A VPN makes it impossible for your internet service provider, network administrator, or “anyone who’s trying to snoop on your activity,” to see what you’re doing, McEwen says.

McEwen also points out that many people are using work-supplied technology from home for the first time. “Never use a work-supplied device for any sort of personal communication,” McEwen says. “Especially intimate communication.” And, she adds, not even in Incognito Mode, which is a "privacy" option on many browsers.

“All Incognito Mode does is delete cookies and search history when you close a session,” McEwen says. “It doesn’t encrypt your connection to the internet.”

In other words, your boss can still see what you’re doing when you’re “incognito.” Including looking up tips on the best angles for thirst traps.

Finally, McEwen says to “keep private conversations off of networks or platforms that are really made more for social sharing, not private communication.” Instead of defaulting to the most popular social networks, consider using tools and platforms from companies that prioritize privacy, like Telegram for texting and FaceTime for video communication or Avast Secure Browser for encrypted everything. They're much more likely to keep your private interactions actually private. And that's worth making the switch for.

Experts:

Jen McEwen, privacy expert at Avast