LEAKY BODIES, LEAKING DATA: PERIOD TRACKING APPS, MENSTRUAL CAPITALISM AND THE PRAXIS OF FEMINIST CYBER SECURITY

Laura Shipp

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis contributes to the new subdiscipline of feminist cyber security. It utilises tools from the more established field of feminist geopolitics as intervention points into theory and practice of cyber security. It borrows the field’s conceptualisations of security, and the elevation of the body as actor, site, and embodied expert in geopolitical dynamics. I demonstrate this within the context of menstrual tracking apps which have become extremely popular across the world. The thesis provides a timely investigation into these apps and the wider industry of FemTech which they are a part of. The apps and the industry are perpetuating what can be interpreted as a new form of ‘menstrual capitalism’. Based on my analysis, I argue that menstrual capitalism thrives on the ‘perceived' wrongness of menstruation and the leakiness of the menstruating body by providing profitable solutions to ‘fix’ the leak. This trickles into user perceptions of the products, with app users self-reporting the ambivalence experienced when using their apps. This includes, for example, the perceived need to manage and conceal leakiness. The new era of menstrual capitalism brought about FemTech is also inextricably tied to the generation of data, including reproductive and sexual health data. Intimate data of this nature has previously been unavailable for large-scale collection. In this thesis I investigate the ways that this collection takes place, how it is obfuscated by corporations, and examine how it is known and felt by those using the apps. I then consider the ways that feminist cyber security, whilst redefining what it means to be secure, can also help to ‘secure’ people from the harms of menstrual capitalism. Given the fast pace of the industry, new threats and adversaries are emerging all the time and I aim to ensure that feminist cyber security can provide an alternative to the new harms that may arise, and one that is based on users’ wants and needs.
In this endeavour, I employed an interdisciplinary sociotechnical methodology that used methods from both feminist geography and cyber security. This comprised a security and privacy analysis of a range of period tracking apps. This analysis was followed by a year-long ethnography of FemTech (including 15 stakeholder interviews) in the UK, Europe, and North America. This was combined with 43
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interviews and 6 focus groups with UK-based app users. I also created a hybrid sociotechnical method which brought together autoethnographic methods from feminist geography with subject access requests. The mixed method approach of my thesis contributes to wider scholarly discussions on the ‘doing’ of interdisciplinarity within the academy, fleshing out the realities of what can, at times, be little more than a buzzword. The empirical data that these methods generated provide a timely, in-depth, and nuanced investigation of this industry and its users where currently few such accounts exist. Overall, the contributions of this work are situated in the further development of the still fledgling subdiscipline of feminist cyber security. In this way, I continue to craft a new feminist vision for what cyber security can be, alongside my feminist cyber security colleagues.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationPh.D.
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Brickell, Katherine, Supervisor
  • Blasco Alis, Jorge, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Publication statusUnpublished - 20 Dec 2022

Keywords

  • FEMTECH
  • PERIOD-TRACKING
  • CYBER SECURITY
  • FEMINIST RESEARCH
  • interdiscplinary

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