The battle for women’s data

4 months ago

2023 will be the year the battle for data ownership takes to the streets.

Repeal by the US Supreme Court Rowe vs. Wade politicized women’s bodies – and not only in the United States. As the decision was debated in Westminster, several British MPs took the opportunity to question the woman’s bodily autonomy.

The reaction of every woman I know, and many men, has been instinctive and visceral. We are transported back to the 70s or earlier.

But there is a difference. In those days, we did not have artificial intelligence and big data. We didn’t have numbers.

We are all digital beings now. More than ten years have passed since history about how a Target supermarket knew a teenage girl was pregnant before her parents did, based on what she was buying. Think of the huge “advances” in algorithms, data collection, and advertising technology since then. Legislation fails.

There are a lot of very smart people in tech, but their approach to data trading is based on profit, not principles. The Supreme Court decision politicized the data women collect about their bodies, placing it at the center of one of the most polarized and toxic political controversies. I predict that in 2023 the data rights debate will move into the real world.

Original Rowe vs. Wade the judgment was based on the idea of ​​privacy. Its repeal will exacerbate the issue of privacy in the digital world.

Even before Caviar was canceled, many expressed concern about the apps people were using to track their periods. When not being pregnant can be a crime – if you have been pregnant in the recent past – information about your periods becomes evidence for prosecution.

We have already seen how women were prosecuted for miscarriages. States will request data in the interests of prosecuting abortion providers and clients. In addition, states such as Texas and Oklahoma have “bounty hunter” laws that allow individuals to target women who have had abortions, which can trigger digital stalking.

Women are moving from period-tracking apps with known data issues, like Flo, to apps that promise more privacy, like Stardust, though their privacy promises are still unproven.

But the problem isn’t just limited to period apps: for example, any app that tracks your temperature could have data that infers your fertility status. What about inferences based on what you buy (Target’s example looked at whether or not women buy scented moisturizer) or what interests you? (Google has announced that it will remove visits to abortion clinics, but what about searching for addresses of abortion clinics?)

In practice, tech companies will almost certainly abide by state laws unless federal regulation takes precedence. This means the transfer of information at the request of the court. Due to the toxicity of the abortion debate, we may see an arms race in terms of law enforcement in American states.

Removing period apps is not enough. Your phone, the websites you visit, the other apps you run, they’re all watching you. Even in the UK it is perfectly legal to sell this data if it has been aggregated and presumably anonymized. Like a computer scientist Patania Sweeney As you know, the term “anonymized data sets” should be preceded by the word “pseudo”. Even most data that has been deleted can be recovered.

Basically, the business model of the entire “legal” web is to understand you well enough to sell you what you might want to buy. And pregnancy affects your intended purchases.

As an engineer and tech evangelist at heart, I have long been troubled by the lack of individual autonomy over the digital footprints we all leave. I predict that in 2023 we will see women and their allies on the streets demanding control over our data as a means of control over our bodies.

Leave a Reply