Bodies and algorithms: a global feminist approach to period trackers

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Bodies and algorithms: a global feminist approach to period trackers
Presenter(s) Danae Tapia, Joana Varon, Dalia Othman
Organization(s) Coding Rights
Project(s) Body, Borders and Territories in the Digital Age
Country(ies) Brazil, Chile
Social media
2017 theme Community

The relationship between womens' bodies and mobile apps gets closer every day. Now it is possible to use women-targeted applications to track several routines as food consumption, physical exercise and the menstrual cycle. The latter apps are usually focused on the monitoring of one of the following body processes: fertility, pregnancy, and menstruation.

These apps are massively used by young females around the world; a study in 2016 identified 225 menstrual tracking apps in the Apple Store and positioned those as the second most popular category among adolescent women. This scenario has caught the attention from scholars worldwide particularly regarding data collection, a problem that is highlighted when considering that among all age groups, higher proportions of the 18-24 year olds have the poorest understanding of privacy policy terms and data selling, plus the evident problem of digital colonialism when information is moving from the developing world to first-world corporations who collect this data for monetary purposes, perpetuating the notion of personal data as a commodity.

For this session we intend to present a broad view of the data management of these apps, its implications on privacy plus the impact on womens' bodies in the Latin American region and eventually in the Global South. We would like to trigger a conversation with fellow activists, software developers and feminist groups.

As a starting point for the debate we are going to present two main approaches to the issue:

  • Flow of information and privacy concerns
  • The impact of these apps standards on women’s bodies

These debates will be filled by current research taking place in Brazil and Chile, but with a global feminist approach of period trackers:

Over 2016, Coding Rights has developed a project on storytelling to create compelling narratives around privacy and surveillance, mostly not using such terminologies. Entitled, these narratives have been structured around 4 axes: the city, the house, the pocket and the body. The first release of the body session is centered on period trackers, focusing on addresssing the following questions: • What is the business model of period trackers?

  • What is their Terms of Privacy like? Can users understand what is the trade?
  • What information do we give and what are the potential risks?
  • Are period trackers a new form of profiting on women's health?
  • Why are all of these trackers have stereotypical images of women, centered on fertility and pregnancy?
  • What would be the aspects of non-normative, safe and feminist trackers?

On October 2016,15 young Chilean feminist activists of areas such as health, arts, social sciences and technology, attended a workshop in the outskirts of Santiago de Chile in order to analyse these apps and examine its interactions within the women they work with. We addressed the following research questions:

  • Are the body standards conceived by these apps relevant to the realities of women in the global south, particularly Chilean women?
  • Which is the impact of this kind of quantification on Chilean women’s bodies?

Through a narrative inquiry process with an emphasis on storytelling, the group agreed on issues as the complications on quantifying the menstrual cycle, the physical impact of trying to fit into the app standards and the need for incorporating perspectives of race and class at software development. (Complete paper on this link

We intend to share these research experiences and involve the participants in an interactive session where the attendants are going to be able to envision several contexts where health apps and their algorithms collide with the realities of women in the global south.

Format Conversation
Target Groups
Length 1 hour
Skill Level Novice
Language English

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