Programme and description - Gendered Digital Surveillance and Harms

Please see the below programme for the Sheffield Centre for International and European Law (SCEIL) Workshop. This programme is subject to changes. It will be confirmed the Monday before the event.

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Programme of the event Thursday 13 June

11.50am - 12.00pm Welcome and Introduction- Dr Maria Tzanou

Fertility and Menstruation Tracking apps: a tale of (dis)empowerment?

Anastasia Siapka (Leuven)

12.30- 13.00pm

Protection against gendered digital surveillance and harms - challenges for enforcement, challenges for system design

Dr Marit Hansen (Schleswig-Holstein Data Protection Authority)

13.00-14.00pm Lunch
14.00- 14.30pm

The Digital Period project: What I have learned from talking to people who (don’t) use period tracking apps

Judith Blijden

14.30- 15.00pm

Feminist Data Protection: An Introduction

Dr Felix Bieker (Schleswig-Holstein Data Protection Authority)

15.15- 16.00pm

oundtable Discussion Leverhulme Research Project Grant FemTech Surveillance: Gendered Digital Harms and Regulatory Approaches

Dr Maria Tzanou, Prof Tsachi Keren-Paz, Karan Tripathi (University of Sheffield)

16.00- 16.15pm

Future Steps & Conclusion


Workshop Description 

Gender is often neglected in the discourse on emerging technologies regulation. For instance, there is little discussion on how technology is both shaped by and enables gendered perspectives and little attention is paid on the technology’s role in either reinforcing or exacerbating gender-based surveillance and harms. Ignoring gender can make technology another, and more elusive, site of gender-based oppression. Therefore, gender should be retrieved from the margins and made central to the discourse on technology regulation and digital justice.

‘Gendered Digital Surveillance and Harms’ is a workshop that aims to reflect on the intersections of gender, digital technologies (some of which are addressed to women, such as FemTech) and regulation. It aims to understand the nature and scope of technology-facilitated gendered surveillance and harms and explore regulatory or legal responses grounded in feminist (data) justice.

The workshop aims to explore, but is not limited to, the following themes:

  • Understanding the nature and scope of gendered digital surveillance with regard to both its disciplinary and coercive aspects as well as its empowering, ‘human flourishing’ aspects;
  • Understanding gendered digital harms (both data-centred and embodied) across the intersections of ethnicity, class, gender, and race;
  • Reflection on mitigating the risks of gendered digital harms;
  • Understanding legal protection: lessons from legal and regulatory theory for how legal protection against gendered digital harms should be constructed;
  • Interrogating the gendered aspects of technology and tech regulation, including but not limited to what challenges regulators should be reflecting on in the context of data protection, privacy and regulation of AI;
  • Critical reflections on (EU) data protection law and data as a regulatory target in relation to gendered digital harms;
  • Egalitarian data justice and feminist data protection as frameworks to explore and address gendered digital harms.

Speakers’ abstracts

Anastasia Siapka, Fertility and Menstruation Tracking apps: a tale of (dis)empowerment?

Fertility and Menstruation Tracking apps (FMTs), as a subset of femtech, are growing in popularity and economic value. But what do these apps consist in and why are they so commonly used? At first glance, FMTs are marketed as tools that empower users by helping them better understand their bodies. A closer examination of data processing by FMTs, however, reveals that these apps fall short of materialising their purported empowerment objectives. On the legal side, FMTs expose users to risks related to privacy and data protection, (cyber)security, consumer protection, medical reliability and non-discrimination. On the ethical side, they facilitate users’ surveillance, quantification and the commodification of their data. In addition, they cause reproductive health risks and engage in harmful gender stereotyping. In light of these legal and ethical risks, concerns about fertility and menstruation need to move beyond technological solutionism and towards changes in the relevant social and cultural norms.

Dr Felix Bieker, Feminist Data Protection: An Introduction

‘Feminist data protection’ is not an established term or field of study: doctrinal legal and economic positions dominate the data protection discourse. While in the past, there have been feminist interventions concerning the concept of privacy, there has been little engagement with data protection specifically. In my talk, I will highlight a number of works in the broader fields of critical data and surveillance studies, then turn to data protection itself and how it could be understood, critiqued and possibly reimagined in feminist terms. Finally, I return to ‘feminist data protection’ and the different directions in which we think it might be further developed: as a feminist approach to data protection, as the protection of feminist data, and as a feminist way of protecting data.

Judith Blijden, The Digital Period project: What I have learned from talking to people who (don’t) use period tracking apps

Period tracking apps play a role in a part of our lives that is extremely intimate. These apps promise empowerment, control and autonomy. Developers of these apps translate all kinds of (cultural) norms into design features, company policies and marketing strategies. Sometimes they deliver on their promises, sometimes they do not. I will showcase a number of personal stories that give an insight into the gap between dominant narratives and assumptions present in period tracking apps and the actual lived experiences of people. These personal stories show the great diversity in needs and perception. They give a holistic insight into the different elements that are important for an app user.

I will reflect on what the gap between dominant narratives and assumptions present in period tracking apps and the actual lived experiences of people means, how different levels of ‘harm’ can look like and who (individuals and groups) can be affected by it. I will also share how people are finding creative ways to improve period apps and how they are trying to work towards a more inclusive and feminist digital future.

The Digital Period is a public philosophy project that runs throughout 2023 in which Judith Blijden examines our personal relationship with technology by taking a closer look at period tracking apps. 

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