A Privacy Guide for Sex Workers: Tips and Apps to Keep Your Identity More Secure

There are lots of reasons a sex worker might need to keep their sex worker identity separate from the rest of their lives. Society is still extremely anti-sex-worker.

For instance, in a custody dispute an allegation that a mother is engaging in sex work will prejudice a judge against her and may result in her losing even unsupervised visitation rights. Even without a custody fight, Child Protective Services can take your children because you engage in sex work.

Sometimes friend groups will exclude sex workers. I mean, I had a woman write a letter publicly quitting the organization I worked for because she couldn’t stand to volunteer alongside a porn performer. *eyeroll*

Sometimes it’s the simple matter of not wanting to embarrass or worry your parents.

And forget some forms of future employment if you’re out as a sex worker. You will never, ever be allowed to work with children if you’ve ever engaged in any sex work.

And, last but not least, there’s always the remote threat of criminal prosecution. While it’s unlikely you’ll be targeted for investigation for indoor sex work, there’s always the possibility that cops will harass you, or try to get you to inform by threatening you with prosecution for sex work.

Alright. So what’s a sex worker to do to stay safe? First, a word of warning. Your information is only as private as it is not worth the trouble to hack. Which is to say, no matter what you do, there is a point at which enough skill, money, and time will reveal everything you want to keep secret. So your only hope is to make it more difficult to hack you than it is rewarding. These tips will keep your difficulty level higher than default. But you should also keep the temptation low by avoiding interacting with people who seem like they might get obsessed with you and avoiding unnecessarily pissing people off.

Use Burner Phones

Like many young white suburban people, my first introduction to the idea of the burner phone was The Wire. In the show, drug dealers used them to avoid a wiretap. They knew it took a few weeks for the police to get a warrant to tap each phone, so they used their phones for a few weeks then threw them away and bought new ones.

The reason you want burner phones is so you can use fresh phone numbers in your ads. The more places you use the same number, the easier it is to connect your work to your identity. For example, did you know you can search for people in Facebook by their phone numbers? Searching my cell phone number brings up my full name and profile picture.

For extra security, use cash to buy your prepaid phone. Or, if you want to order burners online, use cash to buy a PureTalk plan payment card, then use that to shop for phones online.

Buying phone frequently can add up. You can buy one phone and get new numbers regularly by installing the Burner app onto your prepaid device.

A word of caution from my good friend Jason King. Burner has a major drawback for sex work. It knows all the “burners” you have ever used. And it knows the device ID where it was installed. This could pose problems for you if you use it on a phone tied to your real ID. If you do that law enforcement can compel Burner to turn over their records. For example maybe your spouse tips off law enforcement in a custody dispute. Burner’s information will directly tie to you to every ad you have ever placed.
So your best best is to use the Burner app on a burner smartphone! Like the $10 tracphone Android Walmart is peddling. Pro-tip: Don’t use social media or Gmail on your burner “work” phone. Facebook and Google’s logging tendencies are terrifying.

Set a strong password on your phone’s lock screen. This means you will want to use more than the 4 digit iPhone default. Don’t use your birthdate. The best thing to do is to use a password manager like 1Password or KeePassEx to generate a fully random password that is at least 6 characters, preferably 8.

Modern iPhones have an advantage as you can use your fingerprint instead of having to type that hard-to-remember password. But note that law enforcement might be able to compel you to unlock your phone with your fingerprint. If using a fingerprint recognition device, make sure that you set the timeout that will require you to re-enter your password as low as your paranoia is high. Also, keep your phone’s OS up to date as the most recent versions of both Android and iPhone are much more secure from the prying eyes of law enforcement or the guy who stole your phone.

Get a PO Box

Whether it’s burner phones, checks, or gifts from clients, you need a place for people to send you stuff that’s not your home. With UPS Mailboxes, you can have what appears to be a “real’ address.

Text and Call with Signal

Encryption is the best way to evade surveillance. Signal is the only Edward Snowden-approved encryption app, and it’s coming to Android as well as iPhone. And now desktop! And it’s free!

It’s no harder to use than normal calling and texting. But you do need your other party to have it installed and be willing to use it.

If iPhone users want to communicate a bit more broadly iMessage is a decent second-best tool, but you’re only secure when your messages are blue and not green. If you’re using new numbers frequently this won’t work because you’ll need to generate a new iCloud account every time you change numbers.

Use Bitcoin

Bitcoin has several advantages for your purposes over cash. First, it’s safer to carry around. Second, you can accept it online, making it perfect for camming. It’s even easier to use than cash in person. Transferring bitcoin in person requires scanning a QR code. No more counting, you can see the amount immediately in black and white. Also, there’s no risk of getting counterfeit money.

It has the advantage over credit cards as well. First, it’s more secure by default. In addition, while the Department of Justice has successfully pressured banks to cut sex workers off from services, bitcoin doesn’t bow to government pressure.

Bitcoin is not anonymous by default! This is such a frustrating misconception. Cash is anonymous, and widely accepted, which is why it’s the most popular medium for transactions among criminals.

But it’s not easy to connect a bitcoin address to an identity, especially if you’re using new addresses for every transaction.

Download a wallet (here’s a list of options). Then just create a new address for every appointment. It’s the easiest way to make your bitcoin transactions more difficult to track.

One more advantage of Bitcoin is that you can pay for your ads with it on Backpage.com.

Use Unique Photos in Your Ads

Never, ever use any part of the photo you use in an ad anywhere else online. That’s because people can save the image and upload it into Google Image Search to find similar photos. For this reason as well, you may not want to include photos with your face in your profiles or ads.

To see where all your photos are online, use this reverse image search tool.

Interacting with Law Enforcement

You probably aren’t a law enforcement target, but everyone gets pulled over for speeding or at a DUI checkpoint and having a second phone around can lead down a road of interaction that you really don’t want. This is where being polite but asserting your constitutional rights really matters.

If an officer asks to search your car or your bag you’ll want to say something like, “I know you’re just doing your job officer, but my lawyer has told me that she will give me no end of hell if I consent to a search, so no thank you.” Stand firm. You’re going to best best off if you don’t consent to a search or say much more to the police than pleasantries.

Don’t let the threat of arrest dissuade you from refusing a search. Just assume you’ll be arrested, so that threats and stall tactics to get you to consent to a search or incriminate yourself don’t bother you. Yes, an arrest will be on your record. But an arrest is A. Very common nowadays and B. Better than a conviction if they find something.

The officer may search anyway. But then it’s up to your lawyer to show that the officer didn’t have probable cause. If you get searched or arrested they’ll seize your burner because they’ll think you’re a drug dealer. But if you’ve got a strong password on your phone, they’re not going to get to look inside – even with a warrant.

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Steersman

    Looks to be a compendium of useful applications, although it is depressing to realize that it underscores the fact that sexworkers are about 7 times more likely to be murdered than the next most dangerous job, male taxicab drivers (1).

    In any case, while your compendium looks fairly complete, I might point to a few other applications or possibilities. For instance, while it seems available only in the UK, there’s the “Ugly Mugs Android App” (2) which bills itself as a “safety app for sex workers”, and which has apparently been used to get convictions against those who assault them. And then there’s “Disckreet” (3) which, while it is primarily designed to allow couples to “share [their] intimate moments”, might be pressed into service to securely record contractual arrangements between sexworkers and clients.

    But, maybe more usefully, at least potentially, I’ve suggested (4) that an iPhone App could be developed to record those “intimate moments” from start to finish. While it was originally conceived as a method of reducing the incidence of both rape and false accusations thereof, primarily in the context of hook-up culture where references tend to be the last thing on anyone’s mind, it too might well be pressed into service to provide protections to both sexworkers and clients.

    To briefly describe that application, as it is unlikely that anyone would consent to recording such information if there was any chance of it becoming public, it would encrypt the audio and visual data using 3 keys such that any 2 would be sufficient to unlock the files – somewhat similar to safety deposit boxes, although with 3 keys instead of 2. Consequently that method would allow the data to be recovered if any two parties provided their keys which would likely reduce the incidence of rape or assault – by either sexworker or client. Somewhat in passing, I have run the idea past several sexworkers who at least made polite observations that the idea had some potential.

    1) “_https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_against_prostitutes#Prevalence”;
    2) “_http://www.safeiq.com/work/”;
    3) “_https://itunes.apple.com/app/disckreet/id817289920?mt=8”;
    4) “_http://atheismplus.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=5336”;

  2. Paul Meehan

    Legalized prostitution in my opinion is not
    the actual way to go about it, but when you look
    at it the only legal way to be qualified to do this
    would be if you had a psychology and business
    degree as well as having some knowledge of physical therapy or nursing. My former friend
    Marian Frantz, AKA Sasha Grey used to live down the street from me in Mamaroneck, New York and
    she is a licensed social worker. How does one legitimately go about becoming a sex worker
    in general?

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