Contact: Caitlin Seeley George
Civil rights and abortion groups demand the communications platform offer end-to-end encryption and a blocking/reporting feature to secure messages and address harassment
Today, a coalition of 93 groups sent a letter to Slack calling on the company to protect its users by offering end-to-end encryption for messages, and to add blocking and reporting features to help protect users from harassment. The signers include abortion rights, digital rights, racial justice, and other civil society groups, as well as privacy-focused businesses.
The letter, hosted at MakeSlackSafe.com, points to attacks on abortions and bodily autonomy in the US as a specific threat under which people’s personal messages are being targeted by law enforcement. While Slack says that it only provides user data to law enforcement when it is legally required to do so, in states where abortion is being criminalized, law enforcement can and will use subpoenas to force Slack to hand over the internal messages of abortion funds, abortion providers, and reproductive rights organizations, as well as private individuals who use Slack to message friends, family and coworkers.
The letter also highlights broader attacks on human rights, stating that “in the US and around the world, governments are using data and digital communications to target human rights defenders and people exposing human rights violations, including political nonprofits, activist networks, journalists.” Signers argue that end-to-end encryption is a key feature for ensuring user messages cannot be accessed by Slack, hackers, snooping bosses, or law enforcement.
In addition to offering end-to-end encryption to secure messages, the groups call on Slack to offer tools to stop harassment on the platform, specifically blocking and reporting features, which they note are available on the vast majority of communications tools. With online harassment of workers on the rise (especially since the shift to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic), Slack’s refusal to add a tool to allow people to block other users or report content is unacceptable.
“Slack is falling short in terms of the most basic guardrails for platform safety and privacy, which could have seismic implications for users. End-to-end encryption keeps people safe, and safety must be a built-in feature on all of our platforms. By not addressing this security flaw, Slack is aiding the criminalization of abortions and other expressions of bodily autonomy. As a leader in the online messaging space, Slack has to do more than just run nice PR campaigns claiming to support reproductive rights, they must ensure user safety is inherent in their tech.” Caitlin Seeley George, Campaigns and Managing Director at Fight for the Future.
“Slack has become one of the most popular communications tools of our era. And with that popularity comes responsibility — responsibility that Slack is currently neglecting. Slack must protect its users and catch up with many of its peers by offering common sense safety features, like the option for end-to-end encryption.” Reem Suleiman, U.S. Advocacy Lead at Mozilla
“For years, Slack has said it doesn’t need a block button because it is just a workplace tool and that would cut down on meaningful conversations. I have been advocating for one basic feature, blocking, since 2019, to make Slack safer. Slack isn’t just a workplace tool, it’s used by all different kinds of people, communities, and it’s also used in workplaces. It’s important to emphasize one thing here: harassment happens everywhere. It happens between families, friends, across strangers, and it also happens in the workplace. Blocking is a necessary tool to help mitigate harassment; it’s something users need to create their own safety, especially in the workplace, but in any community. Better security and privacy, privacy tools make people safer. Now is the time to press for what I call: seatbelts of online safety, which are necessary tooling and product features every product, software or infrastructure should have. End to end encryption, blocking, muting, and reporting are those necessary features; we need to think of them as the kinds of safety requirements that airbags and seatbelts provide for cars. We need to shift our thoughts away from thinking of these solely as additional features, but as necessary and required functionality to create and maintain a healthier web. The time is now to remake our web to include this functionality and every product. It’s time for Slack to really commit to safety and user health; these features make that happen.” Caroline Sinders, founder, principal researcher, Convocation Research + Design
“A key component of collective action is communication. We all deserve to know our communications are safe. Workers, consumers, friends, and activists need end-to-end encrypted communications platforms with safety features like blocking, muting, and reporting. I’m hopeful that Slack will take this responsibility seriously and offer these important safety features for users.” Charlotte Slaiman, Competition Policy Director at Public Knowledge
“We are in strong support of mainstreaming encryption and urge messaging platforms to adopt encryption as a way to safeguard people’s human rights. Encryption is not just a matter of privacy, it is a fundamental tool to enhance trust in digital communications. For an organization that yields as much power as Slack does through their popularity and reach, there is a responsibility to keep their users and community safe. We call on Slack to prioritize the adoption of encryption to ensure that messaging apps remain a powerful tool for empowerment, freedom, and the protection of human rights online.” Isabela Fernandes, Executive Director, the Tor Project.
“Ranking Digital Rights’s standards call on companies to protect users’ private communications. While we believe that all chat communications should be encrypted, at the very least, users should have the option to turn on end-to-end encryption. While Slack has some protections in place, these do not extend to end-to-end encryption for messaging. Our 2022 Big Tech Scorecard found that most messaging services, ranging from iMessage to Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and Kakao Talk, did provide options for end-to-end encryption. QQ and WeChat, however, both from Chinese company Tencent, failed to do so. Had we ranked Slack, it would have failed, alongside Tencent’s services. We believe Slack can, and should, do much better.” Anna Lee Nabors, Ranking Digital Rights
“In a time when our personal freedoms and rights are under threat, it is crucial to hold Slack accountable. The lack of end-to-end encryption in Slack exposes our private messages to various entities, enabling potential harassment, union-busting, suppression of political activism, and even criminalization of essential choices like abortion. With the rise of repressive laws and increased surveillance, the privacy of our communications has become paramount, especially for marginalized communities. End-to-end encryption ensures the protection and empowerment of individuals, allowing us to navigate a post-Roe US with dignity and autonomy.” Perry Toone, Thexyz
“As a workplace tool that many employees can’t opt out of using, Slack users need control over their exposure to abusive and harassing messages. Because of its real-time delivery and the current inability of the platform’s users to block or mute other users, Slack can be a hothouse for bad behavior. It is in the interests of employers and the platform itself to empower users to control their interactions with illegal or distressing content and the ability to keep their personal conversations private. Mechanisms like muting, blocking, reporting content and encrypted direct messaging should be standard operating procedure on the social Internet,” Tracy Rosenberg, Oakland Privacy
“As an organization that uses Slack to run our campaigns and communicate as a team it is vitally important that the platform be safe and private so that we can do our work to prevent war and violence. Political and human rights activists in the United States and around the globe that use Slack face increasing risks to their freedom and safety because of the use of online surveillance, harassment, and repression, and we expect Slack to take measures to protect them and the important work that they do. We call on Slack to implement end to end encryption and measures to prevent harassment so that its customers can do their work to build more democratic and just communities.” Amy Frame, Director of Data and technology, Win Without War
“At Malloc, we firmly believe in safeguarding the privacy and security of communication for all individuals. That is why we are joining the call to make Slack safe. In an era where personal freedoms and marginalized communities are under threat, it is crucial that we advocate for end-to-end encryption in workplace messaging platforms like Slack. Protecting the privacy of direct messages is not only a matter of personal liberty but also vital to ensure the safety and well-being of employees, activists, and vulnerable communities. We stand united in demanding stronger privacy measures to safeguard confidential conversations and protect the fundamental rights of all individuals.” Maria Terzi, Co-Founder & CEO – Malloc Inc.
In addition to delivering this letter, Fight for the Future has placed sidewalk decals outside Slack’s offices in San Francisco and Denver, has a billboard in the Bay Area, and is running digital ads targeting Slack and calling for end-to-end encryption. The group is also running a broader campaign calling on all messaging platforms to Make DMs Safe by implementing end-to-end encryption by default.
Letter and full list of signers:
We are businesses, organizations, communities, and individuals who depend on tools like Slack to connect online. We are activists organizing for change; journalists who communicate with sources and about sensitive stories; nonprofits providing care and support for our communities; companies that need to streamline our processes and share ideas; students, creators, gamers, alumni, artists, athletes, and other communities that use the Internet to connect with people all over the world.
Slack has put the security of our communities in danger by not taking steps to ensure user safety. Safety should be a built-in feature of all technology, so we are calling on you to protect your users by providing the option to enable end-to-end encryption for messages to protect our privacy, and to add blocking, muting and reporting features to help protect users from harassment.
In the US and around the world, governments are using data and digital communications to target human rights defenders and people exposing human rights violations, including political nonprofits, activist networks, journalists. For many of these groups and individuals, Slack is an absolutely vital communication tool, but it could also become the basis of government targeting, repression, censorship.
For years, law enforcement has monitored marginalized groups—including BIPOC, immigrants, social justice activists, and sex workers—through their online communications and through other forms of surveillance. Personal communications immediately became a target for criminalizing abortion seekers and providers after the reversal of Roe v Wade. Security experts and human rights organizations have sounded the alarm about this abuse and point to default end-to-end encrypted messaging as a first and best step companies can take to protect targeted communities. End-to-end encryption is crucial for protecting people from anti-human rights attacks on their bodily autonomy and personhood.
Despite critiques from journalists and privacy experts, Slack has not publicized any plans to offer end-to-end encryption. Instead you’re choosing to prioritize profit over users’ privacy and safety.
In addition to unencrypted Slack messages, the absence of functionality to address harassment over Slack puts users at risk. Whether for work, volunteering, or other social communities, many cannot opt out of using Slack. With workplace and online bullying and harassment on the rise, disproportionately impacting marginalized people who might not have other resources or feel comfortable reporting harassment to HR departments or other moderators, Slack must take responsibility to ensure everyone is equipped with resources to defend themselves.
The vast majority of communication tools give users the ability to mute, block, and report people. Adding these features is a simple, commonsense way to offer more protection from harassment on Slack.
Right now, Slack is falling short in terms of the most basic guardrails for platform safety and privacy. At this political moment, this can mean life or death for some people online. We call on Slack to go beyond statements and put into action its commitment to human rights by implementing basic safety and privacy design features immediately.
Abortion Access Front
Associação Portuguesa para a Promoção da Segurança da Informação
Bend the Arc: Jewish Action
Catholics for Choice
Center for Digital Resilience
Climate Mobilization Project
Convocation Research + Design
Dangerous Speech Project
Den Frie Vilje ApS
Digital Defense Fund
DNS Africa Media and Communications
Electronic Frontier Finland – Effi ry
European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL)
Fight for the Future
Forward Together & Forward Together Action
Gotham City Drupal
I Need An A.com
If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice
Jane’s Due Process
Medical Students for Choice
National Abortion Federation
National Institute for Reproductive Health
National Network of Abortion Funds
New Eden welfare promotion foundation
Open Data Charter
Pixels for Humans
Point of VIew
Privacy & Access Council of Canada
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
ProgressNow New Mexico
Ranking Digital Rights
Reproductive Health Access Project
RootsAction Education Fund
Salmonberry Tribal Associates
Sex Workers Project @ The Urban Justice Center
State Innovation Exchange (SiX)
Superbloom Design (previously Simply Secure)
Surveillance Technology Oversight Project
The Tor Project
The Womxn Project
United We Dream
Utah Abortion Fund
Win Without War
Woodhull Freedom Foundation
World Wide Web Foundation