“Privacy is not for me, it’s for those rich women”: Performative Privacy Practices on Mobile Phones by Women in South Asia

Amna Batool
David Nemer
Elizabeth Churchill
Nithya Sambasivan
Nova Ahmed
Sane Gaytán
Tara Matthews
Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2018(2018)


Women in South Asia own fewer personal devices like laptops and phones than women elsewhere in the world. Further, cultural expectations influence how mobile phones are shared with and digital activities are scrutinized by family members. In this paper, we report on a qualitative study conducted in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh about how women perceive, manage, and control their personal privacy on shared phones. We describe a set of five performative practices our participants employed to maintain individuality and privacy, despite frequent borrowing and monitoring of their devices by family and social relations. These practices involved management of phone and app locks, content deletion, technology avoidance, and use of private modes. We present design opportunities for maintaining privacy on shared devices that are mindful of the social norms and values in the South Asian countries studied, including to improve discovery of privacy controls, offer content hiding, and provide algorithmic understanding of multiple-user use cases. Our suggestions have implications for enhancing the agency of user populations whose social norms shape their phone use.