Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

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On Toppling Monuments

I’m taking a break from social media for a moment, but here’s a quick thought:

Ask me how much I care about where we draw the line on toppling monuments of bigots and slaveholders. This might be a conversation I’d be interested in if 99% of America’s statutes weren’t of white dudes. As it stands, five—FIVE—statues in Washington, D.C. are of women from history; the other 46 statues depicting women do so anonymously, or even better, toplessly. Call me and ask me how much I care when all of our historical monuments aren’t to white men who tried to oppress women or people of color.

As for what we do with the toppled statues, I’m personally of the throw-them-in-the-museum variety, but honestly? I don’t care. I don’t think historical monuments need to be destroyed; in fact, I think it’s counterproductive. But do I care, when my friends are under threat from actual Nazis? No, I decidedly do not.


On the “Google Memo”

You’ve probably heard this story by now. I’m not going to give this any more emotional attention, but wanted to throw down a few quick things that have been bothering me:

  • Damore’s “freedom of thought” is not under attack.  Once you have written a 10-page screed and issued it to your fellow employees, some of whom are women who have to work on your team, you have crossed the line from “freedom of thought” to intimidation and harassment.
  •  Racial and gender diversity are not antithetical to “diversity of thought.” People who come from different racial/gender/class/etc backgrounds invariably bring their varied experiences to the table, creating diversity of thought. Unfortunately, for Silicon Valley types, “diversity of thought” seems to only refer to the right to bring libertarian and right-wing ideas to the table.
  • Those arguing that Damore shouldn’t be fired for his words seem to lack understanding of how his pseudo-scientific, misogynist ideas affect the women who have to work with him, and place Damore’s feelings and well-being above theirs. It’s a delicate balance for sure, but at a company where women only make up 31% of the global workforce and 20% of the technical workforce, Google should be placing the well-being of women above the well-being of misogynists…that is, if they actually want to change their statistics.

But on the other hand…

  • Damore is clearly sexist and thus I shall cry not even a microtear for him, but I will say this: If he’s right that employees don’t feel comfortable expressing their political views in the workplace (no, not in an intimidating 10-page screed, but in the workplace), then maybe Google does have a problem. But the reasons and solutions for that problem that Damore has identified are pseudo-scientific, misogynistic, and wrong.


“I don’t want to give out my phone number” — A gendered security issue

I’d just given a talk and was having a nice chat with a young man who was doing similar work and wanted to stay in touch.

“Great, just give me your Signal number,” he said.

I hesitated. I’ve been using Signal for several years, since it was TextSecure. It’s by far the most trusted messaging app in my circles, and although it’s been slow to catch up to WhatsApp and other tools when it comes to fancy features, I use just as much among friends.

But Signal—as well as WhatsApp and Viber—require you to register with and use your phone number as an identifier. What this means practically is that when I meet someone with whom I wish to connect on one of these apps, I have to give them my phone number for them to be able to message me. Other apps, including Wire and Telegram (the latter of which I do not recommend at all), allow you to connect using a handle of your choosing.

I’ve been thinking about this as a security issue for awhile. As a woman, handing out my phone number to a stranger creates a moderate risk: What if he calls me in the middle of the night? What if he harasses me over SMS? What if I have to change my number to get away from him?

I’m not so surprised that the mostly-male developers of these tools didn’t consider these risks. They’ve focused carefully on ensuring that their encryption works (which is key), that their user-verification models are usable and make sense, and I’m grateful for that…but I still don’t want to give my phone number out to a stranger.

Luckily, I have a workaround, and a policy recommendation for app developers. Let’s start with the latter:

Allow users to create alias handles

I’m not a technologist, but I’ve asked around, and a number of smart friends have suggested that it wouldn’t be so hard for apps like Signal to allow for aliases. What do I mean? Well, imagine that young man at the conference had asked me for my Signal, but instead of giving him my number, I could give him a temporary or permanent handle associated with my account. Registration wouldn’t change—my Signal would still be tied to my phone number—but the public-facing identifier could be the phone number or an alias of my choosing.

I don’t know why this hasn’t been done, but I’d love to know. Perhaps the men running these teams simply haven’t thought of it?

A workaround to protect your phone number

A few years ago, I discovered a way to use Signal and WhatsApp while keeping them disconnected from the SIM I carry with me in my phone. It requires you to purchase a second SIM card (I use a pay-as-you-go that I top up every couple of months). Here’s how you do it:

1. Put your secondary SIM card in your regular phone and register your Signal account to that number.
2. After it’s registered, take that SIM card out and put your regular one back in. Do not change your Signal account to that number.

You’ll want to hold on to the SIM card, and make sure it stays operational, because if the number goes back out onto the market, someone can register a new account with it, thus kicking you off of yours (seriously, this happened to a friend in Lebanon, where numbers go back onto the market frequently).

You can treat the secondary number as a public number (mine is on my business cards, and I keep the SIM in an old Nokia so I can take work calls on it), or as your own little secret.

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