May 30, 2023
This isn’t how we wanted to open the post announcing our new product, but here we are: Block Party’s anti-harassment tools for Twitter are on indefinite hiatus.
So what’s next? Sorry, trolls. Block Party the company is still alive and well, and we’re very excited to share our new product: Privacy Party.
It’s a browser extension that reduces your risk of harassment, cyberstalking, impersonation, fraud, spam, and other online attacks with automated privacy playbooks for your social media accounts.
Wait, what? This isn’t what Block Party used to do at all. Well: yes and no. Let’s all go on a little journey together.
The original Block Party product for Twitter was especially helpful in two ways: reducing day-to-day noise, and managing moments of crisis like dedicated harassment campaigns. It did things like help people targeted by harassers to avoid seeing harmful content, without losing the ability to monitor and record evidence of attacks, or allow them to get support from trusted helpers. We wanted to help where there was an acute pain point and where people could immediately feel relief, but taking a step back, we also want people to have a generally healthier and safer existence on social media overall.
Most of the conversation about online harms today focuses on people currently experiencing active harassment. Given what little progress more than a decade of conversation has actually made in addressing that part of the problem, it’s not surprising that it’s still the focus. But online abuse affects more than just its immediate targets. There’s also two other, larger groups of people to consider: those who haven’t yet been impacted, but will be, and those who are afraid to engage in the conversation online in the first place, because they’re rightfully worried about becoming a target.
So for the last few months, we’ve been thinking a lot about those people, and asking ourselves a different set of questions, like: How might we reduce the severity of attacks before they start? How might we help people navigate the complex tradeoffs that prioritizing safety might entail? And how might we do it without relying on API access? (Fool me once, etc.)
Our answer is Privacy Party.
Here's a bold claim: most default settings on social platforms are bad for you. It's good that they are settings, yes, because that does mean you are being offered a choice. But how much of a choice is something, really, if you don't know it exists or what impact it might have on you?
Defaults typically entice you to share as widely as possible, and set up expectations that certain information should be public, without letting you know that sharing comes with meaningful risks. If you’ve ever found yourself digging up the street you lived on as a kid and your grandma’s first name so you can share your ‘stripper name’, you’ve experienced this phenomenon before. Those ancient inside jokes seem less funny when it's trivial for a sufficiently motivated person to find and weaponize context collapse against you. Plus, there are new settings popping up with some regularity, and what to do with them isn't always obvious.
So as social media users, we have a mix of decisions to make that seem mundane, have unclear impacts, and that you might not even know you made, because you got opted into a default with no warning that you could make a different choice.
….and those decisions dramatically affect your online safety.
…and fixing them is surprisingly manual and exceptionally tedious.
No wonder people stick with defaults.
You should get to make informed choices about which risks you accept from your social media accounts. Choices that prioritize what you care about, not what fits platform incentives. The tradeoffs should be clear. And it shouldn't take all day to clean everything up.
That's where Privacy Party comes in. It's a browser extension. That means it's right there with you, on each settings page, as you're making decisions. Think of it as a privacy coach. Often in the world of social media safety, it’s not clear what you should be doing, or what decisions you need to make. To help solve that problem, the extension guides you through automated privacy playbooks that offer expert recommendations, so you know what to you need to consider. And once you decide what boundaries you want, automations go do the confusing and tedious work of finding the right settings and implementing them.
To start, Privacy Party offers playbooks for three social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Venmo.
We chose these platforms for a mix of reasons:
We also plan to expand to cover many additional platforms in the near future; LinkedIn, Instagram, and TikTok are on our short list.
Each playbook has a series of recommendation cards with different settings to change or steps to take to address a particular type of risk. We preemptively assess your account at the start of the playbook to make sure we aren't suggesting changes you've already made. And it only takes a click to skip anything that doesn't work for you.
We offer a mix of recommendation types: some can be automated, and some you will need to implement yourself. When we’re not able to automate on your behalf, we give you the directions step-by-step to get it done. And much more automation is coming soon, so if you see a step that says “automation coming soon”, you can always skip those and revisit with a future release.
One of the best things about Privacy Party being a browser extension is that working through the browser allows us to be especially privacy-preserving in every part of the product. Suggestions and automations happen right within the browser, without needing to send your personal data back to our servers in order to operate.
To that end, unlike most tech products, we only collect a very small amount of information for debugging and product planning purposes, and none of it can be tied to you or your personal details. We share the full list of data we log, and why, right on the extension dashboard. And if you’re uncomfortable with any of that logging, there’s one-click opt-out available any time.
Privacy Party is currently available as an early alpha to existing Block Party users. If you weren’t using Block Party’s Twitter tools, you can get on the waitlist now.