The ethics of sextech – is design justice compatible with market demands?


  • Kath Albury Swinburne University of Technology
  • Zahra Stardust Queensland University of Technology
  • Jenny Kennedy RMIT University


Background: While many sextech projects involve researchers, to date these partnerships have primarily focused on the biomedical or sexological aspects of sexuality and tech use. This paper explores sociotechnical insights drawn from an online 'public interest sextech' research hackathon, which featured presentations from representatives of marginalised communities disproportionally impacted by the collection, regulation, aggregation and commercialisation of sexual and/or intimate data – including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people living with HIV, people with disabilities, trans people and sex workers.

Aims: Hackathon participants (including sexuality educators, design professionals and technologists) were asked to consider how the values of designers become embedded in the technologies; and invited to create speculative designs for innovative sextech informed by design justice approaches (Costanza-Chock 2020).

Methods: Hackathons typically involve a series of intensive design sprints. We followed this model, supporting participants via expert presentations, and access to industry mentors over a 3-day period. Participants then ‘pitched’ their design to judges with broad expertise in sextech and public interest technologies. They also shared reflections on speculative sextech design (and the broader hackathon experience) in facilitated small group sessions.

Results: Throughout the hackathon, panellists (and activist participants) focused on local, collective approaches – focusing on cultural protocols, counter-surveillance and building community partnerships. In contrast, market-focused participants prioritised opportunities for commercialisation and global scaleability.

Conclusions: While co-design is a core element of ethical and inclusive practice, there are significant tensions between the market demands of start-up tech cultures, and the more collective approaches favoured by stakeholders from marginalised sexual communities.





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