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Saturday, January 7, 2023

Artificial intelligence and consent: a feminist anti-colonial critique

Varon, J., & Peña, P. (2021). 
Internet Policy Review, 10(4).


Feminist theories have extensively debated consent in sexual and political contexts. But what does it mean to consent when we are talking about our data bodies feeding artificial intelligence (AI) systems? This article builds a feminist and anti-colonial critique about how an individualistic notion of consent is being used to legitimate practices of the so-called emerging Digital Welfare States, focused on digitalisation of anti-poverty programmes. The goal is to expose how the functional role of digital consent has been enabling data extractivist practices for control and exclusion, another manifestation of colonialism embedded in cutting-edge digital technology.

Here is an excerpt:

Another important criticism of this traditional idea of consent in sexual relationships is the forced binarism of yes/no. According to Gira Grant (2016), consent is not only given but also is built from multiple factors such as the location, the moment, the emotional state, trust, and desire. In fact, for this author, the example of sex workers could demonstrate how desire and consent are different, although sometimes confused as the same. For her there are many things that sex workers do without necessarily wanting to. However, they give consent for legitimate reasons.

It is also important how we express consent. For feminists such as Fraisse (2012), there is no consent without the body. In other words, consent has a relational and communication-based (verbal and nonverbal) dimension where power relationships matter (Tinat, 2012; Fraisse, 2012). This is very relevant when we discuss “tacit consent” in sexual relationships. In another dimension of how we express consent, Fraisse (2012) distinguishes between choice (the consent that is accepted and adhered to) and coercion (the "consent" that is allowed and endured).

According to Fraisse (2012), the critical view of consent that is currently claimed by feminist theories is not consent as a symptom of contemporary individualism; it has a collective approach through the idea of “the ethics of consent”, which provides attention to the "conditions" of the practice; the practice adapted to a contextual situation, therefore rejecting universal norms that ignore the diversified conditions of domination (Fraisse, 2012).

In the same sense, Lucia Melgar (2012) asserts that, in the case of sexual consent, it is not just an individual right, but a collective right of women to say "my body is mine" and from there it claims freedom to all bodies. As Sarah Ahmed (2017, n.p.) states “for feminism: no is a political labor”. In other words, “if your position is precarious you might not be able to afford no. [...] This is why the less precarious might have a political obligation to say no on behalf of or alongside those who are more precarious”. Referring to Éric Fassin, Fraisse (2012) understands that in this feminist view, consent will not be “liberal” anymore (as a refrain of the free individual), but “radical”, because, as Fassin would call, seeing in a collective act, it could function as some sort of consensual exchange of power.