Online security in furry fandom
Hopefully, all Internet users have, by now, heard about the United State's widespread spying programme which has recorded huge volumes of data passing through America. Just as concerning is the looming, default porn block in the UK which will not only block porn by default but also violence, alcohol, smoking and Internet forums, among other things. These programmes should be of major concern to all Internet users. They are also a perfect opportunity to talk about online security.
The first step is to limit what you make available. The furry fandom is a great place to make friends, meet up with in real life with people with similar interests, to engage with a creative community and even to make some money. However, there is a very real risk of furs being too open. As we've integrated the Internet into society, particularly websites such as Facebook, we forget warnings that used to be commonplace.
Here's a version of the guidelines I made for a forum I moderate which make a good starting point for staying safe online:
- You can't trust everyone on the Internet, even furs. This doesn't mean you must be paranoid — but do be cautious.
- Don't give out your real name, photograph, telephone number or address until you can be confident that the person can be trusted.
- Likewise, don't post your personal information where it will be available to the public.
- Separate your furry identity from your real identity as far as possible.
- If you're meeting someone you know from on-line, don't go alone; meet in a public place and let someone know where you are going.
These are not hard and fast rules, just recommendations. For example, professional furry artists will necessarily be more forthcoming with their real name and how to contact them. For the average fur, it is unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, to put your real name out there.
The furry fandom is not the most popular fandom on the Internet; furry sites and users are sometimes the targets of hacks and DDoS attacks. You can avoid some of these by using HTTPS to encrypt your connection to the website, preventing malicious users from intercepting your communication and perhaps stealing your credentials or other private information. SoFurry, Inkbunny and Fur Affinity all support HTTPS [as do WikiFur and Flayrah], although only Inkbunny enforces its use.
Just as useful is the ability to encrypt your emails and instant message conversations for the same reasons. Unfortunately, how to go about doing this will be different for different protocols, clients and devices. In addition, both you and the person you are communicating with need to have encryption available. Some protocols should already be encrypted, such as Skype – but it's worth keeping in mind that they (and all American companies or U.S.-hosted services), must comply with NSA orders; Skype text chats, audio and video calls can be tapped.
While I doubt there are surveillance programmes focussed on the furry fandom we must bear in mind that the fandom is spread across the globe. While that is an amazing and wonderful thing, it also means that furs are subject to a wide variety of laws regarding content and it may be that such programmes might eventually be turned against them. The UK looks most likely to go that way at the moment, but we mustn't forget that erotic anthropomorphic comic strip Omaha The Cat Dancer had legal issues in the U.S., New Zealand and Canada due to perceived obscenity.
Similarly, and more recently, U.S. obscenity laws have been applied to novels in a Georgia court. Both erotic art and stories play a sizeable (if at times controversial) role in furry fandom. It is possible to see a scenario where government surveillance might be used against the fandom. Depending on how you feel about government oversight, obscenity and privacy you will no doubt view these situations differently, but this is an ideal time to begin a discussion on security in the fandom.