Keeping a Low Profile? Technology, Risk and Privacy among Undocumented Immigrants

Guberek, Tamy; McDonald, Allison; Simioni, Sylvia; Mhaidli, Abraham H.; Toyama, Kentaro; Schaub, Florian

Undocumented immigrants in the United States face risks of discrimination, surveillance, and deportation. We investigate their technology use, risk perceptions, and protective strategies relating to their vulnerability. Through semi-structured interviews with Latinx undocumented immigrants, we find that while participants act to address offline threats, this vigilance does not translate to their online activities. Their technology use is shaped by needs and benefits rather than risk perceptions. While our participants are concerned about identity theft and privacy generally, and some raise concerns about online harassment, their understanding of government surveillance risks is vague and met with resignation. We identify tensions among self-expression, group privacy, and self-censorship related to their immigration status, as well as strong trust in service providers. Our findings have implications for digital literacy education, privacy and security interfaces, and technology design in general. Even minor design decisions can substantially affect exposure risks and well-being for such vulnerable communities.