The ability to say NO on the Internet

#consent #feminisms #privacy

A feminist approach to consent in digital technologies

By Paz Peña and Joana Varon

It’s strange to think that two of the most important discussions today are around the same concept: consent. In one hand, the whole #MeToo movement has helped to resurface in the public opinion an old and never overcome debate on sexual consent, and in the other, the political scandal of Facebook–Cambridge Analytica has demonstrated (again) the futile exercise to consent on the use of our data in datafied societies dominated by a handle of transnational data companies.

Nevertheless, while these two discussions are happening at the same time, bridges between them are almost nonexistent. Moreover, when we talk about our sexual practices mediated by platforms (sexting, dating apps, etc), the discussion on how these two types of consent collide and what complexities come after that are almost always ignored. For example, in the policy debate on NCII (non-consensual dissemination of intimate images), the lack of consent is either almost entirely seen as a sexual offense or as a mere problem of data protection and privacy.

In order to shed a light on the matter, we are launching today, the research “Consent to our Data Bodies: Lessons from feminist theories to enforce data protection”. The goal was to explore how feminists views and theories on sexual consent can feed the data protection debate in which consent — among futile “Agree” buttons — seems to live in a void of significant meaning. Envisioned more as a critical provocation than a recipe, the study is an attempt to contribute to a debate on data protection, which seems to return over and over again to a liberal and universalizing idea of consent. This framework has already proved to be key for abusive behaviors by different powerful players, ranging from big monopolistic ICTs companies, like Facebook, to Hollywood celebrities and even religious leaders, such as the recent case of João de Deus, in Brazil.