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Feminist Data Ethics

Feminist Data Ethics Microseminar 2019.png

Location: MIT

Wednesdays 12:00 - 2:00 PM

July 10, 2019 - August 7, 2019

Application Deadline: Friday, June 28

In an era marked by a rapid increase in the flow of information, sometimes called the Information Age, there is a pressing need to consider the ethical implications of new technologies and their impact on how we receive and transmit various types of data: medical, genetic, financial, personal. Data is being generated in many ways from our physical bodies, and  this form of “datafication” has far-reaching ethical implications. From our credit records to our FitBits to our electronic health records, massive amounts of information is being collected and collated, resulting in what John Cheney-Lippold describes as a blurring of self and information in his book We Are Data. In this seminar, we will consider intersections with feminist thought and the ethics of information, particularly as they apply to issues of health and data privacy and security, and the veracity of news. To what extent does the individual have a right to information or to access data? When is that right mitigated by public health interests, national security interests, or privacy interests? Can sharing information be harmful, and under what circumstances? Should data sharing be regulated and how might this impact democratic ideals and the freedom of speech? Examples may include a consideration of the return of genetic data to medical study participants, BRCA variant data sharing, FDA and EPA warning labels, HIPAA protections and their relationship to sensitive medical data (reidentification), tracking of consumer spending, election polling, digital manipulation of images, “fake news,” digital or social media harassment and moderation, spreadability of social media memes and status updates, hashtag campaigns, and hacking.


Karl Surkan has been teaching in the Program in Women’s and Gender Studies at MIT for the past 12 years. His research interests include new media activism and online social movements, intersections of bioethics and science and technology studies, feminist media studies, technology studies, queer/trans politics and representation, reproductive technologies, and most recently wearable technologies and epatient communities and health activism.