Flavia Saxler, University of Cambridge

Tech4Good and (In)Equalities: The Ethics of Safety Tracking Technologies for Women

My research focuses on digital safety applications that GPS-track women in cities: when emergencies take place, such applications, often integrated into other smart devices (i.e. wearables), combine data and context to help the individual in need and simultaneously learn how to reduce risks in urban environments. My research project aims to expose the ethics of safety tracking technologies for women as cultural artefacts by understanding their design and usage through a multi-sited technography. With ethics, I refer to how safety technologies take care of women in public, and what this tells us about inequalities mediated by technologies. For that, I analyse how safety is technologically mediated and how that shapes power relations in urban space-making in the age of ‘smart safe cities’.

My approach is based on media ethics, which engages with the norms and values of technologies designed and used. I use the concept of care as a lens for critical investigation of the mediation of safety for women and related data practices. Here, I dialogue feminist care ethics and feminist technoscience to uncover discrimination and bias in digital technologies to explore fundamental barriers embedded in the design and purpose of technologies. I define a techno-feminist ethics of care as a way of thinking about technologies as caring socio-technical artefacts that set human and non-human into moral relations.

Generally, I want to add to feminist understandings of technologies concerning safe spaces and grapple with gendered geographical discourses to highlight the exclusion and invisibility of women. Theoretically, I contribute to broader societal implications of the rise of corporate surveillance and practices of self-tracking as a form of empowerment that produces knowledge about women. Empirically, I will add to emerging technologies for women’s safety. Methodologically, I strive to contribute to qualitative discourses on technologies departing from the fetishisation of computational methods to understand how technological artifacts work and how we can open up the ‘black box’. Finally, I show whether datafication processes do or do not enhance women’s safety in the digital age of cities.