Apps to tackle sexual abuse and misconduct have been around for at least a decade. They have been introduced in business settings, colleges, and mental health programs with funding from government initiatives such as the Obama administration’s 2011 Apps Against Violence challenge and global organizations such as UN Women.
These applications aren’t just for recording consent. Many are designed to provide survivors of sexual assault with emergency services, information, and a way to report and gather evidence against perpetrators.
These technologies are often framed as empowering resources that help women through the anonymous and open processing of data, according to proponents.
Critics of the proposed consent app also pointed out that attempts to frequently consent to fail to comprehend that consent can be retracted at any time.
An individual can also agree under duress, fear of consequences, or intoxication. If an individual expresses consent at one point but circumstances change, the record can be used to refute their statements.
These applications, which are typically targeted at women, collect data from users through monitoring techniques such as persistent cookies and geo-locational tracking.
Violence can be facilitated by the use of digital tools. Abusive partners may use them to harass victims online, allowing them daily access to them. Apps aimed at encouraging survivors to report abuse to pose common questions, as they do not resolve the power imbalances that lead to officials dismissing survivors’ reports of violence.
Following the high-profile sex assault scandal involving Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor who was convicted of several sex crimes after being accused by more than 350 young women and girls, changes were introduced, including the SafeSport app.
Within a year of the app’s launch, 1,800 allegations of sexual assault or harassment were issued. However, due to a lack of funds, the allegations could not be adequately reviewed, jeopardizing the organization’s promises to impose sexual assault penalties.
Apps, even when used properly, pose doubts about data security. They accumulate massive quantities of confidential data, which is stored on cyber-vulnerable digital databases and cloud servers.
Private entities can own the data, which they may sell to other organizations, enabling authorities to bypass privacy laws. Consent apps perpetuate erroneous beliefs about technology’s potential to “cure” social ills.
Data issues are not only about approval, abuse, or responsibility, quantifiable and time-stamped data, but also strong cultural and institutional complex issues that are needed to be resolved.
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