Does it ever feel like large tech companies act against our best interests? On one end, there are social media algorithms suggesting questionable content. On the other end, workplace software keeps tabs on our performance and reports back to our bosses. And then there are the privacy issues: Apps made by Facebook, for example, are notorious for collecting gobs of user data. It can feel impossible to preempt companies’ data collection. What features should you avoid? What settings should you switch on or off?

Privacy Party was created with this in mind. The Firefox extension acts as a pseudo-invisible hand that will switch on and off certain settings options for you on popular sites like Facebook, Twitter or even Venmo. In some ways this is a sequel to the app Block Party, the app that helped users evade harassment on Twitter’s platform. Both apps were created by engineer Tracy Chou and her team. Tracy formerly worked at tech companies like Pinterest and Quora and now works full-time creating software that is pro-user and anti-harassment — because if you’ve ever been targeted online, it’s anything but a party.

Tracy’s newest app wants to help users preserve their privacy when using popular social media sites. “Privacy Party helps you look through your social accounts and helps you secure your settings to make sure there isn’t access being given where it shouldn’t,” says Tracy. “For example, making sure people don’t have access to your Facebook photos that shouldn’t. Or reviewing what apps have access to your Instagram account.”

The team’s previous app, Block Party, is on hiatus indefinitely. Many third-party Twitter apps shut their doors when the company increased the cost to access Twitter’s API — a building block software developers use to easily add in data from services like Twitter into their apps. “APIs are nice because they allowed our app Block Party to run in the background and the API specified clear contracts between companies like Twitter and third-parties like us,” says Tracy. “In addition to safety tools, APIs make research and analysis possible, by easily pulling down data and studying it.”

The hard part, Tracy says, is when third-party developers are shut out from an API and the data it provides. In Privacy Party’s case, instead of relying on an API, the browser extension simply toggles options in a settings menu — which has the potential to be a more sustainable solution when protecting your privacy against the tech giants. “I wouldn’t say companies are motivated to invade your privacy,” says Tracy, “it’s just that the things they’re trying to do don’t directly increase users’ privacy. It’ll never be their top priority to maximize user safety and experience. But what’s different about Privacy Party and Block Party is that we can be incentivized to make sure users have the best experience.” That’s something worth partying over.

Partying In The Name Of Privacy — Tracy Chou On Protecting Your Data Online

Written By: Xavier Harding

Edited By: Audrey Hingle, Kevin Zawacki, Tracy Kariuki, Xavier Harding

Art By: Shannon Zepeda

(Quotes condensed)

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