Afro-Brazilian handmade jewelry that hides a Tails USB stick

Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I'm a hardware and programming girl. I program in Python and Rails. I also participate in a hackerspace and a feminist hacker collective in Brazil. We organize talks and workshops to empower women in their use of technology.

In my work, I use different words, words that are more familiar to people, and elements from Brazilian culture, especially from the culture of my region, Bahia. I try to make connections between modern technology and ancestral cultures.

How did you discover Tails?

When I was at the university, I didn't have a computer of my own, so I learned to use live Linux distributions as portable operating systems.

In 2010, I started being more concerned about the privacy of my data and discovered Tails. I immediately got very interested and started using Tails for all of my work and studies to protect my data while working on the university's computer and Internet connection.

I stopped using Tails for some time when I could afford to buy a computer of my own. But I still love Tails because it saved me so many times.

Tell me about your work teaching Tails to other women in Brazil.

In 2015, I went back to Tails because I was working on feminist security. I started teaching other women how to use Tails, women who work with reproductive rights. For these workshops, I developed the idea of mixing Linux with jewelry to create patuás, a type of Brazilian protection amulets.

By saying patuá instead of Tails, these woman could understand much better what is Tails and what it can do for them. Let's build an amulet, a patuá, to protect you, your community, and your organization.

Tails is useful for them not only to work on reproductive rights but also for their personal data. These women didn't have computers of their own and used the computers at work or in school or the computers of their husbands and boyfriends.

When they started learning about Tails and the importance of privacy, it was very transforming because their boyfriends had a very bad influence on them. Their boyfriends treated them like they were not smart and wouldn't be able to work with a technology like Tails.

But I taught them how to install Tails, create a passphrase, and also share Tails with other people by doing a copy of their amulet.

In my experience, it's hard to make people understand why privacy is important and why people should make additional efforts to use something like Tails. How did you make them understand that privacy was important for them?

For women who work on digital and reproductive rights, it was much easier to talk about the importance of privacy because a single mistake can compromise an entire organization and get them in trouble with the police.

For other women, they started sharing stories about their boyfriends and how they surveilled everything they did online. Their boyfriends used to check their data on the computer, their browsing history, etc. I asked them how nice it would be if this information was only accessible to them and then the importance of privacy became clear to them.

Some of these women had their home raided by the police after being denounced for their work on abortion. All the information about their patients was not in their phones, but in their Tails amulet, and the police couldn't find any evidence about their work.

How do these women communicate with their patients?

They use WhatsApp because their patients have no technical knowledge. Their patients don't use Signal or Pidgin. Sometimes their phone is so old that they have to use WhatsApp Web. It's a weakness but there is no way around.

How do they organize their work between Tails and WhatsApp?

I tried using WhatsApp Web from Tails but it didn't work. They had to use WhatsApp on their phone to communicate with the patients. But they used Tails for all their internal organizing: emails, web browsing, editing files online, and keeping all their files encrypted.

But when some of these women managed to buy their own computer, they also stopped using Tails.

When the pandemic started, many women were left without computers to use, only their phone. Some of them got in touch with me again and asked about using Tails on their phone. They thought that Tails would work on their phones from a micro SD, like it did on a computer. Unfortunately, it's not possible.

After the pandemic, women are asking me for Tails workshops again now that they can access other computers again at work or at the university. I'm now applying for grants to buy more USB sticks and do more workshops with them.

Which parts of Tails worked the best for them?

Carrying their files without worrying about happens if they lost their Tails or got robbed.

The ease of having a portable computer was the most incredible for them.

These women felt very powerful when using Tails. When they shut down the university's computer to restart on Tails, they felt like a hacker from the movies, a special agent, or superheroine. They hoped that a friend would ask them what they were doing so they could show off their superpowers.

What didn't work so much for them?

  • Creating an encrypted folder

    Creating a safe password that they could remember was very stressful. They didn't want to use an easy password but, when they used a more secure password, they forgot it and lost all their data.

  • Upgrading

    Sometimes the upgrade would fail, probably because of the connection. They would continue using Tails without upgrading. It's good because they could continue using Tails even without upgrading, even though I told them that it was important to upgrade. Sometimes I organized Tails upgrade parties.

  • Translations

    Some parts of Tails were only in English.

  • Some websites are impossible to access using Tor

    For example, social networks and some government websites. But it's good that they understood the interest of accessing these parts of their private lives through Tails.

What do you think is the biggest limitation for them to be more autonomous in their use of Tails and not require your help so much?

People think that Tails is a very complicated beast, a bicho de sete cabeças, but when I show them in-person, they can see that it's not that complicated. It's much easier because I manage to get them to relax and feel confident. They feel more capable. It's not the same when we do online calls.

I write them documentation with a different language, more entertaining and motivating. After the pandemic, everything is more complicated and difficult because people are mental tired.

I'm also take a Tails amulet everywhere I go to make it easier for them to see how it works and how convenient it is.

I miss short videos about the basic functions of Tails. People work a lot with videos in Brazil. They could watch the videos from their phone while Tails is running on the computer and follow them in real time. But videos are heavy and these people often don't have a good connection or they can only connect from their phone. GIFs can be lighter and faster.

When I present Tails to people in rural communities or quilombolas, I always refer to it as patuá, a digital amulet. Tails is an English acronym and people have a hard time with English words. Sometimes people asked me about having a custom Tails, only because it would feel more approachable with a different name.