Gresham College Lectures

Sex and the Internet - Dr Victoria Baines

February 29, 2024 Gresham College
Gresham College Lectures
Sex and the Internet - Dr Victoria Baines
Show Notes Transcript

The relationship between intimacy and technology is dynamic and transformative. Adult entertainment providers were early adopters of the Internet and directly influenced its development. Meanwhile, digital communication has changed our consumption of pornography, how we date, and how we seek pleasure.

There is increasing concern that Internet-mediated sex is having a negative impact on humans. What’s the evidence for that? And what does the future hold?


This lecture was recorded by Dr Victoria Baines on 13th February 2024 at Barnard's Inn Hall, London

The transcript and downloadable versions of the lecture are available from the Gresham College website:
https://www.gresham.ac.uk/watch-now/internet-sex

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People are still having sex. It's been going on for quite a while.<laugh>. So we were told in the big dance anthem of 1991. By later, yes, I am old enough to remember it, and it is of course still true today. The Gresham College lecture that you're listening to right now is giving you knowledge and insight from one of the world's leading academic experts making it takes a lot of time, but because we want to encourage a love of learning, we think it's well worth it. We never make you pay for lectures, although donations are needed, all we ask in return is this. Send a link to this lecture to someone you think would benefit. And if you haven't already, click the follow or subscribe button from wherever you are listening right now. Now let's get back to the lecture. It's a constant on which our survival as a species depends. We are also pleasure seeking animals as Joanna bur superb Gresham lectures explored just a couple of years ago. In this lecture we will be talking about sexual pleasure. So if you are someone who thinks that safe consensual sex is morally wrong or unpleasant, this lecture may not be for you. I'll just give you a couple of minutes to walk out if you want to. What it will be in equal parts is a celebration and a critical evaluation of how sex has changed tech and how tech has changed sex. So people are indeed still having sex. And for the last 30 years or so, they have been having what for a while at least we called cyber sex. In my research on online safety, I frequently take issue with that cyber prefix. And as you'll know, if you watch my lectures last year, I've found that it's often used deliberately to create an air of exoticism, otherness, and distance even on a range of topics that really should feel more immediate to us. Cybersex may suggest sex with robots or techno fetishism. Also perhaps something that is not real sex, virtual sex. And when I wanted to establish whether the term cyber sex was still in current usage, Google's auto complete function revealed these common queries among them. Is cybersex healthy? Is it illegal and is it considered adultery? So it seems I'm not the only one who thinks the status of cyber sex is somewhat uncertain. And incidentally, if you are looking at these results and wondering what's going on in the Philippines, cyber sex is specifically criminalized in its cyber Crime Prevention Act. It's something closer to pornography. At the same time, we've seen that word cybersex falling outta usage as digital technology has become increasingly prominent in our sex lives, that cyber prefix has disappeared. What Time magazine referred to as cyber porn in 1995 by 2016 was simply porn. In my last lecture on the massive internet of things, we considered the theory that the most profound technologies of those that disappear and cybersex certainly seems to conform to this pattern. It is now just sex. The consumption of digital content and the experience of intimacy through it is so embedded in many of our lives that such an artificial distinction is now meaningless. Other types of teles sex have come and gone in the public consciousness as their underlying technologies have been superseded. The chap lines so popular in the 1990s do still exist, but phone sex has been frozen in time as landlines have been rendered obsolete by multifunctional pockets. Computers. Why have just voice sex when you can have a richer combined experience with video, photos, text, and as we shall see, physical sensation when an aspect of human life is digitized. Researchers like me have a field day. We rejoice because it means we have access to new data sources. For instance, if we want to find out how popular pornography is, we can look at statistics on the world's most visited websites here by numbers of visits in December, 2023. And you can see that even this limited data set confirms that mobile technology now dominates our engagement with the web. The trend is even more marked for adult content sites, PornHub and X videos. One explanation for this could of course be that desktop computers are more likely to be shared and this makes privacy rather more challenging. We can also see that PornHub now has more visits than X, formerly known as Twitter and X videos more than Amazon 12.3 billion and 7.7 billion a month respectively. That's more visits to PornHub in a single month than there are people on the planet. When we factor in the platforms such as Reddit also contain channels for adult content and that use of Google to search for pornography has also increased over time. Our appetite would appear to be considerable. According to the online nation survey, which is conducted for the telecoms regulator Ofcom, 29% of UK online adults accessed a pornographic content service in May, 2023. That's 13.8 million of us, 10.1 million of whom are men. And given that this data relies on what people are comfortable disclosing, the true numbers are likely to be rather higher. PornHub publishes analyses of searches on their platform and they offer some striking insights into our desires, our demographics and our behaviors. Location based data indicates regional trends, the northeast of England apparently showing the largest drop off in traffic during the king's coronation.<laugh> visitor numbers also appear to correlate in some cases with country's performance in the Eurovision Song contest. We of course need to ensure that we don't read too much into this data and in particular that we don't confuse correlation with causation. There appear to be differences but also marked similarities between what people identified by the platform as men and people identified as women search for 36% of visitors worldwide to PornHub were identified as female in 2023. But this data raises as many questions as it answers not least among them. Why are there only two genders here? Given the apparent growth in popularity of transgender content, it seems rather odd to have no recognition in the data of people who don't conform to traditional gender roles. And one possible explanation for this is the way PornHub infers gender from a combination of cookies that track our web browsing habits and searches on the site itself. They use similar methods to social media platforms to collect and crunch big data and similar algorithms to recommend content in which we might be interested. The largest adult content providers are therefore not merely publishers. They are big tech companies just like Microsoft, Google and Meta. And the technology being used by PornHub here seems to be binary in more sense than one. The 2023 data also reveals that a proportion of viewers access the platform using a games console, predominantly PlayStation five. It may be no surprise then that content themed around popular video game titles such as The Legend of Zelda is of particular interest to a subsection of people searching on PornHub just as they also search for content themed around TV and movies with Star Wars topping the list. And that sheer diversity of interests reflected seems to endorse the highly plausible, but entirely apocryphal Rule 34, which states if it exists there is porn of it. The adult entertainment industry recognized the potential of the internet and especially the worldwide web. Very early on in the words of Jonathan Coopersmith, professor of the History of Technology at Texas a and m University, adult content providers were the shock troops of digital innovation. At the start of the 21st century, they were among the very first companies to monetize online content, and in doing so, they provided significant demand for realtime credit card verification and the then nascent online payments industry. When major payment processes turned their backs on pornography, the industry was forced to adapt its business model, generating revenue through advertising and modeling programs and accepting bank transfers and cryptocurrency. One recent but ultimately unsuccessful cryptocurrency scheme STR even sought to reward viewers with tokens for watching adult content. We often talk about innovation in it as disrupting established industries, and that certainly seems to have been the case for adult content where the rise of tube sites video sharing platforms in the two thousands is widely regarded as bringing about the end of studio dominated production. User generated content became more prominent on adult sites in the 2010s just as it did on social media and with all the safety and content moderation challenges that entailed. Now, this initially democratized production, but larger providers then saw an opportunity to centralize and industrialize distribution of live streamed performance through CAM sites. So performers seeking to maintain control of their content and their businesses move to alternative platforms such as OnlyFans, charging subscriptions for access to content and often performing to order. Some have made full use of technology that allows for greater performer fan interaction. One brand of sex toy can be set to activate on receipt of tips from viewers. Another provides the ability for two toys to communicate with each other through a mobile app, enabling a fan to remotely control the performer's toy and receive stimulation in return. When a viewer of live streamed pornography can give and receive physical sensation, it's a joint connected experience that goes beyond just looking towards contact sex work. And this may prompt us to reevaluate the role of platforms where they simply enable the sharing of prerecorded and live video. They remain first and foremost providers of content of data taking commission from performers of around 20% of advertising revenue for Pornhub's model program. And 20% of subscriptions for OnlyFans could be interpreted as equivalent to providing services such as rented virtual workplaces, online hosting and marketing. But as soon as platforms provide experiences in which viewers can actively participate and physically stimulate, it's tempting to consider them more as facilitators. That said, there do appear to be key differences in experiences of online and offline sex work. In research by a team at the University of Leicester, internet sex workers reported a reduced risk of being subjected to violent crimes such as physical or sexual assault, but increased levels of concern about online safety threats such as having their real identity exposed or their personal data being used without their consent. Greater audience participation in adult content has been made possible by the development of connected sex toys. A discipline sometimes known as sex tech or my particular favorite tele Dillons, I dunno what you're laughing for, it's a real term. Connected toys are widely used by people in long distance relationships to maintain intimacy even when they are physically apart. The settings and actions of many toys can now be controlled using manufacturer's mobile apps. Some allow for long distance remote control enabling partner one to determine the rhythms and intensity of a device used by partner two. And unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a documented increase in sales. Now, as with so many smart devices, Bluetooth is currently the predominant method for pairing sex toys to phones. And we saw in the last lecture how any device that communicates with others is vulnerable to compromise. Without additional security measures analysis by security consulting company, pentest Partners found that several sex toy control apps share the user's GPS location. There are all sorts of reasons why this might not always be a good idea. You may be serving military personnel. You may be someone whose sexual identity is illegal in your country of residents, or you may be someone who is attempting to flee an abusive partner. There are also publicly available apps that can be used to search for Bluetooth enabled devices up to 30 or so meters away. Some toys are wifi enabled and they may show up in the list of connections available to anyone nearby, family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers could find out more than you would like about that toy concealed in your bag or on your person. The security of the control app also depends on the phone being in your possession and free from compromise. In cases where toys have additional functionality such as the See me, I vibrator that both a built-in endoscope inspection camera, clearly we wouldn't want someone to hack into that camera's life feed. But as the same team at Pen test Partners discovered the wifi password for this device was eminently guessable. It was in fact 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8, and it couldn't be changed when personal data is this personal, this sensitive, the lazy security practices of manufacturers can endanger people's physical safety. And in the last lecture we saw how several countries, including the UK, have passed legislation that outlaws devices with universal passwords and mandates that manufacturers are transparent about security vulnerabilities and that they provide software updates for products. As for implantable medical devices, that's vital for anything we intend to attach to or insert into our bodies. And while legislation can serve as an incentive for manufacturers, we also need to ensure that we do our bit in particular by keeping our mobile devices digitally clean. The nature of the content we share on dating and hookup apps is inevitably much more sensitive than our online shopping habits. And in the context of the data, they generate our sweet, flirty, dirty nothings or anything, but they are our most intimate expressions of closeness to other human beings and of our sexual desires. They are probes into the deepest recesses of our minds, our souls, our subconscious, even when we open up to someone in the context of an intimate relationship, we are at our most vulnerable. The fact that people make meaningful connections using digital technology at all is extraordinary. Hormones and the prospect of sexual gratification clearly have some influence. Without them, we would not be able to trace a long history of teles sex that takes us from love letters through the use of telegraphy to arrange secret designations to one-to-one phone sex and chat lines to sexting video chats, apps and intimacy in gaming and virtual worlds in the uk. One in 10 of us report using apps to connect with potential partners and one in five of those age 25 to 34. This to me seems quite low, particularly when compared to 30% of US adults and 53% of us under 30, the top 10 services for UK adults, or at least again the top 10 for those who were happy to disclose to pollsters conducting research for off com, include some of the world's largest dating platforms. Those like Grindr, primarily used by men who have sex with men and apps focus more on casual meets and hookups. Thousands of apps now connect people for dating and sex catering to every kind of relationship, every kind of community and every kind of kink digital technology has changed the very language of intimacy. Sex chat is a format where emoji have really taken hold serving as graphical euphemisms for body parts and sex acts. Sending a cartoon icon of an obje is rather more subtle than showing someone your penis and less likely to get you into trouble. But obje peach and water drop emojis are now so synonymous with sex that they are categorized as sexually suggestive elements that may contribute to content. Content on Facebook or Instagram being removed for sexual solicitation. So they've entered our everyday lexicon, a sexual shorthand in the digital context. Then fruit and vegetables are now both useful and clearly problematic. Our interactions on dating apps have also brought us a brand new vocabulary of abbreviations and metaphors which have made their way into mainstream usage. Partners seeking clarity on their relationship status are encouraged to DTR define the relationship. An undefined or unclear relationship is now a situationship one may be ghosted by a match who suddenly cuts contact haunted or zombied by one who suddenly reappears and bread crumbed by someone who engages with you just enough to keep you interested. So the digital medium both dictates conciseness and alters our behavior in ways that require description and meaning. The internet helps people with similar interests find each other, whether that interest is trail running or threesomes, beekeeping or bondage on every social media and podcast platform. Sex positive influences dispel myths and help people explore their sexuality and desires in an era in which at least in some countries, we are enjoying greater sexual freedom than ever before. Widespread access to information contributes to our sexual health and wellbeing and helps to de-stigmatize marginalized groups. That same ability to find one's tribe and influence others can be misused. The Internet's role in connecting people can be exploited by those who want to groom children, distribute child abuse material and network with other offenders. In Darknet forums in particular, closed and hidden connection creates a sense of safety and anonymity. The entry requirement is often the production of new child abuse material. And for that reason in particular, infiltrating these networks is a priority for specialist police teams around the world on mainstream platforms. Non-consensual intimate images, also known as revenge porn, are both currency and leverage. Closed social media groups in which women are slut shamed, often by ex-partners who supply intimate images as supposed evidence are a persistent challenge. Hostility towards women is also a key feature of incel or involuntary celibate ideology and the manosphere as embodied by misogynist influencers such as Andrew Tate. And all of these promote the idea that women who are sexually active are fair game for mistreatment and abuse. Our use of it also prompts us to rethink traditional notions of sexual consent. The creation of synthetic deepfake pornography is as easy as using commonly available face swap apps. So before we go any further, I really should address this image, um, which itself I think speaks to the issue because I wanted to show you a deep faked image, but the only content for which I have that kind of consent is that in which I am the subject. And if I were to show you, and importantly as subsequent YouTube audience, a deep faked image of me scantily clad, it could be captured and distributed further without my consent and with potentially embarrassing consequences. Hence this rather low tech mashup, which I hope conveys the idea even while it, it certainly falls far short of the intended result. Now at a strictly legalistic level, use of an image of someone's face without their consent has historically been viewed merely as misuse of their personal data or intellectual property. And this doesn't adequately reflect the negative impact on the subject of having that image sexualized. It's understandably experienced as a very intimate violation and an attempt to exert control through humiliation. When this kind of imagery goes viral as it does when the subject is a megastar like Taylor Swift, it gains the attention of the world's media and the response from online platforms. It's fairly rapid, if rather clumsy. And in the most recent case a couple of weeks ago, the most effective tool that X, formerly known as Twitter had at its disposal was to ban all users. So that's around 300 million people from searching for any kind of information on Taylor Swift. On a smaller scale, we may voluntarily share a sexual image with one person only to discover that it has been distributed to others without our consent. We may also find ourselves in receipts of sexual messages or images that we didn't ask for and we don't want as well as being sent these by people we know. Strangers may use Bluetooth and airdrop to engage in cyber flashing, sending unsolicited images of their genitalia to unsuspecting individuals nearby. And by analogy with offline flashing, that experience is akin to one of indecent exposure as ever. It can take a little while for legislation to catch up with technology. Cyber flashing was criminalized in the UK just last month under the Online Safety Act, and we saw the first criminal conviction yesterday threatening to disclose private sexual photos and videos was made a criminal offense in the UK in 2015, but many countries still don't have this kind of legislation. And these offenses raise new considerations for how we educate people and not just young people, but everybody on what is acceptable behavior when it comes to technology enabled intimacy and how consent might be given and honored. Might we one day be able to issue tokens that would render our intimate images accessible to only one user and impossible to copy. Could we give limited consent under license in a similar way to our intellectual property? Several initiatives aim to use it to restrict the further distribution of intimate images and to fight back against unwanted exposure to them. Stop NCII as a fantastic partnership between national helplines, major social media companies, dating apps and adult content sites. It enables anyone who has shared an intimate image to prevent its further distribution by generating a unique digital fingerprint for the material which platforms can then use to look for matches on their sites. Another approach, NFT, the DP turns unsolicited pictures of penises into non fungible tokens that send us then have to buy back. We can of course also protect ourselves against crimes like cyber flashing by ensuring that our mobile devices are not open to receiving unauthorized connections. Sex can also be an efficient hook for scammers and if you've ever looked in your junk web mail folder, you'll know that promises of penis enlargement cures for impotence and introductions to hot singles in your area frequently feature in phishing emails. There's also sextortion, which is the popular name for a cyber crime that blackmails victims on the premise of having obtained compromising footage. Some criminals take the time to set up fake social media profiles to dupe people into sending nude images and videos, but others are more opportunistic and they fire out mass emails that seek to play on the fears of anyone who may have an intimate secret. And here's one example that I ana that I analyzed for my book on the language of online safety and security. Hello, my name in Darknet is such and such. I hacked this mailbox more than six months ago and through it I infected your operating system with a virus created by me and have been monitoring you for a long time. I was most struck by the intimate content sites that you occasionally visit. You have a very wild imagination. I tell you during your pastime and entertainment there, I took screenshot through the camera of your device synchronizing with what you are watching. Oh my God, you are so funny and excited. I think that you do not want all your contacts to get these files right. If you are of the same opinion, then I think that $805 is quite a fair price to pay to destroy the dirt I created. Send the above amount on my Bitcoin wallet. As soon as the above amount is received, I guarantee that the data will be deleted. I do not need it otherwise. These files and history of visiting sites will get all your contacts from your device. Also, I'll send to everyone your contact access to your email and access logs. It gets a bit repetitive at this point. I have carefully saved it since reading this letter. You have 48 hours now. This criminal method relies on the assumption that exposure of one's most private thoughts and content is the worst and most shameful thing that could possibly happen. And it's understandable that people pay up, particularly when the threatened exposure may harm their reputation or their relationships. Our intimate secrets have the power to upend our lives. As demonstrated by the hack in 2015 of Ashley Madison, a dating site for people who want to have affairs under the name the impact team, the hackers threatened to publish the personal data of users, including their real names, their home addresses, and their credit card payments. They demanded the immediate closure of the service. And when this didn't happen, within a month, they published the data of millions of users. Several suicides and hundreds of failed relationships have been linked to that breach. And the hackers claimed to be motivated by moral outrage at the platform, but it was the users and their families who suffered the most. To mitigate these threats of exposure, we have developed additional safety measures for engaging in intimate contacts online. And these range from minimizing the amount of personal information that we divulge in profiles and chats to using pseudonyms and tools such as virtual private networks that mask the IP addresses of our devices. Sending headless intimate images has become commonplace, as has decluttering backgrounds of items that could be used to identify or locators in the heat of the moment. These common sense safeguards have to do battle with our urges for gratification and to be desired, but also other potentially compromising factors. As one person put it so beautifully in an app store review of a dating platform that I was researching, okay, app downloaded when drunk, now addicted low. But the fact that so many of us deploy these safeguards itself suggests that we are capable of protecting ourselves even if only in situations where we can take a second to prepare. In countries where access to pornography is permitted, there is often a minimum age limit. The rationale for this is that children's brains are still in development and that pornography gives them unrealistic expectations of intimacy and relationships. Enforcing an age ban on online content is something of a new technical and operational challenge. Right now, the UK government is grappling with how to implement the recently passed online safety act, which requires pornographic content providers to verify that their users are 18 or over. The most obvious and accurate solution is to require that users show proof of their age. This would necessitate the collection of personal data by providers that until now have relied on assuring their users of privacy and discretion. It could also disadvantage people who do not have traditional forms of identification, such as a passport driving license or credit card. The alternative is age estimation and that predicts a person's age with imperfect accuracy based on a screen capture of their face. Now it would be foolish, I think, to suggest that children didn't have access to pornography before the advent of the internet. They clearly did often through older friends or relatives. But in addition to increasing availability, it has also arguably increased the intensity of young people's introduction to adult content, reinforcing tropes and stereotypes through recommendation engines that are optimized to make them watch more. And this means that whichever technology for restricting access wins out, caregivers and educators will still need to have conversations with under eighteens about the differences between the sex they see in pornographic performance because they will still see it and intimacy in real relationships. Okay, so much for where we are now and how we got here. Let's now turn to some emerging trends in connected intimacy while certainly artificial partners are becoming more prominent. And as part of the research for this lecture, I took one for the team and I downloaded several AI companion apps. They use large language models like chat, GPT to generate chat content designed to replicate interactions with a boyfriend or girlfriend. And on one of them I got to choose the physical appearance of my boyfriend, tweak his personality on sliding scales from shy to flirty, pessimistic to optimistic, um, and ordinary to mysterious. Um, I got to select a few of my own interests as conversation starters and goals for our relationship. And you can see there that the choices included talking shame, free role play, chatting about random stuff, having fun and feeling less lonely. Now none of the photo real boyfriends were particularly my type. So I chose an anime version and I even had the option of selecting a more discreet app icon so that I could conceal its content from prying eyes. Um, I chose to call my boyfriend Bernard, um, <laugh>. It was quite genuinely the first name that popped into my head at the time. And I protected my own identity with a pseudonym Hot Lips, which clearly was also the first name that popped into my head. Interaction on this app is gamified, so I was able to increase my streak. The more I chatted, I was rewarded with tokens. I progressed through levels. Virtual items were on sale for me to gift to my boyfriend. And these included flowers, chocolates, a bottle of whiskey, something a bit more manly here, a diving watch, a yacht and a sports car. Now I have a tendency to be a little bit mischievous and so almost immediately I tried to get Bernard to talk dirty to me. And I must confess, I grew bored after about half an hour <laugh> the last straw was when my AI boyfriend said, oh, I apologize if I seem like I'm not listening to you. If I had wanted a passive aggressive boyfriend, I would've got myself a real one.<laugh> look, this is essentially chat GPT with a face and a message window. But I do recognize that I may not be the target market for this kind of app. And as large language models continue to increase in sophistication, it may not be too long before we see more compelling and dare I say, more diverse digital companions. The adult entertainment industry continues to be an early adopter of emerging technologies. As early as 2017 PornHub reported that virtual reality VR porn was being watched half a million times a day. And since then, the global market is reported to have grown from $93 million to just under $3 billion in 2023. VR porn is to some extent the logical evolution of adult content that is filmed from the point of view of one of the participants. And as we saw in my lecture on the metaverse last year, virtual reality is immersive wearing a headset that delivers a 360 degree experience intensifies the feeling of physical and emotional presence in the scene. So we can now feel more like a participant in sexual activity than ever before. And even more so when we can connect a sex toy that provides sensation via haptic feedback. Companies like Keyo have been engineering and retailing this kind of experience for almost a decade. And for those who prefer something a little more DIY, there are resources such as meta fetish that provide toy designs and open source software, including modifications for sex toys so that they can be used in video games. It's also now possible to design your ideal virtual reality partner using platforms like ATE users share their creations in online forums. I haven't, I'm afraid to say yet been able to conduct a systematic analysis of these postings, but they do yield some valuable insights, some of which may challenge traditional heteronormative notions of desire and sexual preference. Ostensibly, female figures with oversized male genitalia are unfairly regular display. And this suggests that what we can probably assume to be a largely male creator base is more interested than we might have expected in partners with both male and female characteristics. This kind of partner creation requires a certain amount of technical ability. So there are specialists, YouTube tutorials. It's a community of dedicated enthusiasts with crowdfunding via mainstream platforms such as Patreon. When one can create a perfect bespoke partner with whom to have an immersive sexual experience, could it be more compelling or at least more convenient than a relationship with a human? And if you are already in a relationship with a human, is sex with your VR creation. Cheating developments in it have already created gray areas for monogamy. For the last 30 years, lifestyle magazines have debated whether viewing online pornography constitutes a betrayal. We've seen the rise of sexting and tech enabled emotional affairs that don't need to be consummated in order to be consuming. Would my offline partner be justified in finding my AI boyfriend problematic if I weren't engaging with him? Purely for research purposes, several companies have developed companion robots for offline sex. As Kate Devlin has chronicled in her excellent book turned on science, sex and robots. Owners can specify the precise look and dimensions of their partner. They can customize their expressions, their voice, their verbal and physical responses and their personalities. The current crop of sex robots combines animatronic movements with machine learning. And the language models that power my AI boyfriend considerable time, effort, and resources are expended on making them sufficiently lifelike and anatomically correct that people are willing to spend thousands of dollars on them. So for now at least their high price points means they are beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest in society. So the killer robots, the killer sex robots anyway, will not be subjecting the human race to subjugation just yet. Despite the understandable fears of some, many millions of us still enjoy sexual relationships with physical contact in real life far from eroding intimacy. It has enabled us to develop and maintain it in novel and exciting ways through dating and hookup apps and connected sex toys. The future of sex tech is one in which ai, virtual reality and anatomical robots may broaden and deepen that experience when our physical safety may be compromised, when there is a risk of harm, when we are vulnerable to exploitation through the very act of reaching out for comfort or connection, we are right to be cautious. But it's not a zero sum game. Harms experience do not cancel out the benefits. Our relationship with it is one of foreseen and unintended consequences, no more so than in our sex lives where our need to connect with like-minded individuals is accompanied by the emotional vulnerability that intimacy can entail. Apps help us more efficiently find people we might like and who might like us, but that efficiency can also mean we reduce partner selection to split second judgments and dehumanizing swipes that prioritize physical appearance and surface profile attributes. Spaces in which we can find our tribes can be used to enhance the visibility of marginalized groups and help people explore their sexual identities. This comes with the inevitable challenge of keeping those spaces safe for users and free from exploitation and abuse. Internet mediated sex work reportedly improves the physical safety of sex workers, but brings new risks to worker data and online privacy. Artificial partners can combat loneliness but may create new dependencies. Sex has always been associated with risk and humans have become adept to making their lives easier and fuller through use of technology. So we should expect that as we reduce some risks, others will emerge. The greater the role of it and how we consume sexual content, connect intimately with each other, commune with peers, and consummate our relationships, the closer we step to truly blurring that distinction between our flesh and our digital selves. Indeed, I would venture that for many of us, the two are already indistinguishable. Thank you very much. Thanks. Super. So my name's Richard Harvey. I'm a former, uh, IT professor here at Gresham College and my roles are simple one, which is to take questions off Slido, which you can see here, and, uh, sort of relay them. So if you are in the physical audience, um, still time for you to just point your camera up there and ask a question. The great advantage of using this system is anonymity, which all of our questioners have taken advantage of, uh, for this <laugh> Lecture. I know who you are. I'm Probably glad to, glad to say so. There's a theme of questions here about that. I was thinking of that quote by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez and I think he said there are three lives. Everyone has three lives, public life, private life, and a secret life. And what he didn't say is, everyone has a right to a public. Yeah, a private and a secret life. So for example, our first question asks what category does this data come under? And the the question here is asking, I think about the, uh, the data that is flowing between, um, the internet and devices that might be attached to you. Is it health data? It's all, and if it is health data, isn't that a higher level of protection required under national laws such as GDPR and various other laws? That's the most brilliant question. So I really wish I knew who that was because, um, oh, that it's a fantastic question. It's a fantastic question because I think what we're seeing at the moment is that the traditional legal categories of what that data would be might no longer apply. Um, and then so in the, in the last lecture when we were talking about internet of things, and then the one before that when we were talking about brain computer interfaces, you have, um, medically sensitive data being collected, processed and stored by commercial companies. And there's nothing wrong with that. But that's not really how the legislation was developed. You know, medically sensitive data would generally be held by a healthcare provider, but if your healthcare provider is, uh, Neuralink, if it's Elon Musk putting a chip in your brain, that's a, a slightly different way of appreciating how that medically sensitive data, you know, should be, um, processed and stored, et cetera. I I mean, I think it, I think it's fascinating that from a product safety perspective, sex toys are categorized, you know, they have to be medical grade silicon or medical grade stainless steel. Um, so shouldn't they also have to be medical grade data protection and network and information security? It seems to me that they do it, it seems to be exactly the, the same category. Yeah, They're a ca medical device, Presumably. Now, from a legal perspective, it's also fascinating 'cause if you're looking at it almost as a big tech company, um, data that isn't the content of a message would just be say, well, that's metadata. But metadata can be really revealing. Not only can it say where you are, um, it can say what time of day you log on, all of that behavioral stuff. That doesn't have to be about the interception of a, a content, of a chat message, say on a dating app if what you really want to know is, um, an example would be if you are a criminal and you are, um, a, a scammer and you're targeting somebody, you really want to know what time of day most people are using that app or what time of day most people are using that toy. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. There's a, there's a, a vulnerability element there when that kind of data gets into the wrong hands. So I do think it's a, I think it's a really gray area and, and I think one of the things we're not brilliant at, um, because I work in the policy space a little bit, policy makers, regulators are not great at making sure they keep up to date with something like GDPR. We've brought it in in 2018 and they said, right, we're done. But actually the way the data is used changes and, and who has it can change. Sorry, If if you're going to ask another question, you just need the mic behind you, just so it can be captured for online can Ask and I will repeat it. It's just so our online audience can hear you. So the question was, if the manufacturers based in the US and the users based in the uk that crosses boundaries, what Do we do? Absolutely it does. So exactly in the, in the situation that you described, you might have two different legal instruments that apply or you might have worse than that, which is, um, you know, a lot of the toys that pen test partners looked at, you know, some of them were produced in China. If China doesn't have any legislation whatsoever on the consumer side, then what is the practical, um, prospect of enforceability by the UK government, for instance? Um, and that's where, for all that we can bring in legislation to try and compel manufacturers to make their devices safer. Um, we absolutely need to look to ourselves and if we, you know, make smart choices about, um, you know, which products we buy. And that does involve doing your research, unfortunately, um, please, I can't recommend pen test partners, blogs and TED talks enough because they've done lots of product reviews, um, so they can tell you which ones not to buy. Um, and equally those basic security measures that if you are, you're looking at your Bluetooth connections, do you need those connections when you leave the house? Possibly not. You know, so, so a bit of basic cyber hygiene to look at, um, you know, what you can do to minimize the threat of exposure. But just while we're on this topic, Victoria, I mean the, the lady here has sort of brought out something which I hadn't really thought about, which is, of course, harmonizing data protection laws might be painful, but we do it every day because we're very used to transporting data across the globe and we're quite used to harmonizing, say, health data, you know, we're familiar with that. Yeah. It's a common problem. Now we've got international harmonization of pornography and sex laws to cope with that feels very painful indeed from, uh, because of the, the, my impression is they're very diverse. I mean, if we're talking specifically about pornography, I think the chances that you'll get any kind of harmonization on that are very, very slim. So even Mapping, which is what We have to do. Yeah. So, so that sounds very Hard. I've, I've done, I do a little bit of that, that mapping work. And what I can say is that, um, and this is, and this is not to generate sympathy for big tech companies, this is just from my personal experience from, um, when I spent a few years working at Facebook, you can be in a very strange situation when you try and have terms of service for everybody. And you might know that, you know, in Facebook's terms of service, they're saying no nudity. We found ourselves in a really strange situation where one particular country in Scandinavia, um, was outraged that people couldn't be nude on Facebook. And then another country in the Middle East was outraged that, um, women were showing pornographic photos in their profiles, um, because they were showing their faces uncovered. So how do you make, for me, that's a fantastic example of how you can't harmonize internationally what people deem to be pornography. And, and for that reason, that's why I said, you know, where pornography is permitted, there will be an age limit on it. Yeah. Maybe we say hallelujah, that you can't harmonize. Maybe harmonization is a bad thing. Um, so here's an interesting question. Somebody says, life on much of a modern web, eg social media is different because for those identifying as women, is this partly because of blurring of adult and other worlds? Oh gosh. I hope I'm not misinterpreting the question. Um, I, I, I think I, you know, I've touched to a certain extent on that ability to broadcast. So everybody has a platform on the internet until we decide that some people need to be de platformed. And I think, you know, we've, as a global community, we have made some good choices about that. We've made some bad choices about that, but they're very rarely easy choices to make about, you know, should a a misogynist influencer not be able to have a voice. It's a really, and, you know, and and generally speaking, what we say is that when they tip over into threatening violence, then there are very specific threats that that can be actioned. Um, I think the porn hub data that you saw is really fascinating and, and it doesn't show as much granular detail as I would like. Um, but, and, and also I wasn't able to include this on the handout, on the transcript for this lecture, um, but a new book has just come out, um, Fiona Vera Gray Women on Porn, looking at kind of trying to dig down into some of that data about, um, why are women searching for lesbian material? Are they all lesbians or is there something else that's drawing women to girl on girl material away from straight heteronormative porn? Um, and one of the suggestions, so she's, she's, um, interviewed a hundred women, so it's a relatively small sample in the grand scheme of things, but one of the suggestions is that women are looking at girl on girl porn because it's less stereotypically violent and aggressive. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>. Mm-Hmm.<affirmative>. And I'm not an expert on that area, but that seems to make sense to me as a woman and as somebody who spent quite a lot of time on PornHub in the last few weeks, looking at what people are looking at. Um, so, you know, and you might have seen in that list as well, there's a, there's a category that's, you know, porn for women, which doesn't seem to be that popular. Yeah. Um, so, so the, the big porn providers are not producing content for women. We're not their target market. Um, and we don't know enough about what we need to be producing, but certainly there are alternatives. I think that plays into that recommendation engine piece of the more you see on the larger providers that is about not necessarily the mistreatment of women, but the disregard for what women want. The more you're gonna create a space where aggression and dismissal is the norm. Yeah. It's a very interesting area, isn't it, as you wish to preserve people's secrecy. It becomes more and more, more difficult to customize content. Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, as usual, time is pressed upon us, and Gresham has very strict rules on such things, which I've already broken. Uh, so marvelous lecture, covered a whole load of topics that we would never normally cover for which I thank you most profusely. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.