Towards a Feminist Data Future

A recognition that technologies are not neutral has arrived in public and policy discourse. Data form the very basis of most technologies and algorithms that permeate our lives. As the unequal power relations that structure societies are deeply inscribed in that data, an intersectional approach to data is paramount.

poster "abuse of power comes as no surprise"

Large amounts of data inform not only the technologies that organise digital space, but also an increasing number of algorithms that affect every aspect of our lives. Data created, processed and interpreted under unequal power relations, by humans and/or human-made algorithms, potentially reproduce the same exclusions, discriminations and normative expectations present in societies.

Data are manifold and pervasive: transactional data, communications data, surveillance data, qualitative and quantitative data generated for research and policy purposes, or datasets assembled to train machine learning algorithms for corporate or state actors. These and other kinds of data overlap at times, can be repurposed or aggregated, and may serve aims not anticipated by those the data represents.

The ongoing work of identifying gaps, bias, and the ways in which racism intersects with classism, sexism, or transphobia to exclude, discriminate and further marginalise those underrepresented and otherwise othered in data builds the basis for a more equitable data future. To do justice to the ever-increasing amount of data that the lived experience at the heart of many feminist movements produces (and relies upon), however requires translating such critique into inclusive data practices.

While privacy and access remain important concerns, a feminist data future also requires assessing a threefold potential for digital violence inherent in all data and data practices: the potential for abuse and harassment of those present in the data, the potential for epistemic violence that comes with the collection and processing of data about others, and the potential for intersectional algorithmic discrimination.

If the wider internet policy arena and feminist digital rights movements collectively aim at understanding and changing the power relations in our data and our lives, exploring the implications of inclusive data and of an intersectional data practice, is an urgent next step to thinking both together.

This article was first published (12th November 2019) online via and is part of the publication "Critical Voices, Visions and Vectors for Internet Governance".