The Whole Thing Smacks Of Gender: Algorithmic Exclusion In Body Composition Analysis And Beyond
Maggie Delano & Kendra Alberta
Companies such as Withings and Fitbit tout composition analysis as providing self-knowledge and the ability to make more informed decisions. However, these aspirational statements elide the reality that these numbers are a product of proprietary regression equations that require a binary sex/gender as their input. In this talk, we’ll discuss results from a recent paper that combines transgender studies-influenced personal narrative with an analysis of the scientific basis behind the bioimpedance technology used as part of the Withings smart scale. Attempting to answer the question of how to include nonbinary people reveals that bioelectrical impedance analysis has always rested on physiologically shaky ground, with White nonbinary people being merely the tip of the iceberg of those who may find that their smart scales is not so intelligent when it comes to their bodies. Using body composition analysis as an example, we explore how the problem of trans and nonbinary inclusion in personal health tech goes beyond the issues of adding a third “gender” box or slapping on a rainbow flag on some packaging.
Maggie is an Assistant Professor at Swarthmore College, where she teaches computer engineering courses and an inclusive design course. Her current technical research focuses on the development of a wearable monitoring system for patients with Congestive Heart Failure. She also has multiple collaborations related to building more inclusive devices.
Kendra is a public interest technology lawyer with a special interest in computer security law and freedom of expression. They serve as a clinical instructor at the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School, where they teach students to practice law by working with pro bono clients. Kendra is also the founder and director of the Initiative for a Representative First Amendment. They serve on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Tor Project, and provide support as a legal advisor for Hacking // Hustling.
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