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Sex, Big Data, and User Autonomy

This talk will describe four mechanisms by which the big data paradigm degrades user autonomy:

1) Sensitive data is being aggregated without transparency and without meaningful consent from users;

2) Search functions and algorithms, content recommendations, and ads expose users to unwanted and potentially harmful content;

3) Behavioral analytics creates profit, often by exploiting addictive tendencies, both by platform design as well as by targeted content;

4) Dataism, a growing trust in the "objectivity" of data, justifies and reinforces norms while further marginalizing deviant identities and behaviors.

Each of these mechanisms are increasingly problematic when the platform in question is sexual in nature or is dealing with the collection, sharing, and use of intimate data. Keegan will provide examples of the ways in which different sex technologies, through these mechanisms, are violating users' capacities for self-determination, sexual or not. The technologies discussed to exemplify these mechanisms include pornography, dating apps, sex-tracking apps, and period-tracking apps.

The aim here is not so much to prescribe any certain path forward to overcome these complex issues, but rather to provide insight on the rapidly evolving terrain of our consumer culture, and perhaps inspire deeper and broader consideration of the relevance of technological discourse and digital privacy to sex education.