Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

There’s a double standard when it comes to the sexualities of men versus women, trans and gender non-conforming folks. Unbound and Dame Products, two sex tech startups, have teamed up to bring attention to the issue.

By launching a website, “Approved, Not Approved” and staging a protest outside Facebook’s NYC headquarters, the two startups hope to bring more awareness to the company’s advertising guidelines that seem to favor products that cater to cisgender men. The point of the digital campaign is to show how ads for sex toys and products geared toward men are more likely to be approved than those for women, trans or gender non-conforming people.

“For so long, advertisements have been how we continue to reinforce the status quo of what we view as societally desirable and validating,” Dame Products CEO Alexandra Fine told TechCrunch. “Since we’re in a category that’s often denied, we wanted to create an experience that illuminates the disparity.”

On Facebook, for example, it’s prohibitive to promote the sale or use of adult products or services except for ads that pertain to family planning and contraception. The policy also requires that ads for contraceptives cannot focus on sexual pleasure or sexual enhancement, and have to be targeted to people 18 years or older.

“They’re never going to view sexual pleasure as necessary — only functionality as necessary,” Fine said. “And since the functioning only matters for one sex, then we’re just encouraging shitty sex or at least one-sided sex. Healthy sex should be pleasurable sex. That’s really what I think is important.”

Facebook, however, clearly disagrees since it explicitly bans ads relating to sexual pleasure.

“We have had open lines of communication with both companies about our policies and are always taking feedback,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We are working to further clarify our policies in this space in the near future.”

Unfortunately, there is no telling if and when Facebook and other platforms will change their advertising policies to enable companies like Dame Products and Unbound to reach potential customers through ads.

“I think a lot of us feel like we’ve been silenced by these platforms and they control so much,” Unbound CEO Polly Rodriguez told TechCrunch. “Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest — these are the channels startups live and die by. Not being able to advertise on them is a big deal because, in addition to the policies being biased and genders, it prevents those founders from being able to reach potential customers.”

Unbound CEO Polly Rodriguez. The startup was a finalist at TC Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield finalist in 2018.

In addition to missing out on potential customers, an inability to advertise can have a detrimental effect on a business in terms of raising venture funding.

“I think one of the most frustrating things is trying to raise a round and getting pushback around where you’ll spend the money,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just tough because it’s this vicious cycle where we could be growing at the same rate as a Him or a Roman. It’s definitely in the tens of millions of dollars in terms of foregone profits.”

In addition to the protest, Fine is suing New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority alleging it’s in violation of Dame’s First Amendment rights, the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and the state’s constitutional rights regarding freedom of speech. The lawsuit came in light of the MTA preventing Dame from running its ads on the subway.

Still, despite efforts to squash it, sex tech may finally be getting its moment in the sun. Earlier this month, the sex tech industry had a big win when the organizer of the Consumer Electronics Show finally decided to allow sex tech companies to exhibit and participate in its competition. That came after the Consumer Technology Association, the organizer of CES, royally messed up with sex tech company Lora DiCarlo last year. The CTA revoked an innovation award from the company, which is developing a hands-free device that uses biomimicry and robotics to help women achieve a blended orgasm by simultaneously stimulating the G-spot and the clitoris. In May, CTA re-awarded the company and apologized.

“It’s so rare you see a victory like that and it was because of the press,” Rodriguez said. “It was because it takes. It’s unfortunate these companies don’t do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. They do the right thing when enough people speak out about it.”


TechCrunch

Google has responded to a report this week from Belgian public broadcaster VRT NWS, which revealed that contractors were given access to Google Assistant voice recordings, including those which contained sensitive information — like addresses, conversations between parents and children, business calls, and others containing all sorts of private information. As a result of the report, Google says it’s now preparing to investigate and take action against the contractor who leaked this information to the news outlet.

The company, by way of a blog post, explained that it partners with language experts around the world who review and transcribe a “small set of queries” to help Google better understand various languages.

Only around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets are reviewed by language experts, and these snippets are not associated with Google accounts during the review process, the company says. Other background conversations or noises are not supposed to be transcribed.

The leaker had listened to over 1,000 recordings, and found 153 were accidental in nature — meaning, it was clear the user hadn’t intended to ask for Google’s help. In addition, the report found that determining a user’s identity was often possible because the recordings themselves would reveal personal details. Some of the recordings contained highly sensitive information, like “bedroom conversations,” medical inquiries, or people in what appeared to be domestic violence situations, to name a few.

Google defended the transcription process as being a necessary part of providing voice assistant technologies to its international users.

But instead of focusing on its lack of transparency with consumers over who’s really listening to their voice data, Google says it’s going after the leaker themselves.

“[Transcription] is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant,” writes David Monsees, Product Manager for Search at Google, in the blog post. “We just learned that one of these language reviewers has violated our data security policies by leaking confidential Dutch audio data. Our Security and Privacy Response teams have been activated on this issue, are investigating, and we will take action. We are conducting a full review of our safeguards in this space to prevent misconduct like this from happening again,” he said.

As voice assistant devices are becoming a more common part of consumers’ everyday lives, there’s increased scrutiny on how tech companies are handline the voice recordings, who’s listening on the other end, what records are being stored, and for how long, among other things.

This is not an issue that only Google is facing.

Earlier this month, Amazon responded to a U.S. senator’s inquiry over how it was handling consumers’ voice records. The inquiry had followed a CNET investigation which discovered Alexa recordings were kept unless manually deleted by users, and that some voice transcripts were never deleted. In addition, a Bloomberg report recently found that Amazon workers and contractors during the review process had access to the recordings, as well as an account number, the user’s first name, and the device’s serial number.

Further, a coalition of consumer privacy groups recently lodged a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission which claims Amazon Alexa is violating the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by failing to obtain proper consent over the company’s use of the kids’ data.

Neither Amazon nor Google have gone out of their way to alert consumers as to how the voice recordings are being used.

As Wired notes, the Google Home privacy policy doesn’t disclose that Google is using contract labor to review or transcribe audio recordings. The policy also says that data only leaves the device when the wake word is detected. But these leaked recordings indicate that’s clearly not true — the devices accidentally record voice data at times.

The issues around the lack of disclosure and transparency could be yet another signal to U.S. regulators that tech companies aren’t able to make responsible decisions on their own when it comes to consumer data privacy.

The timing of the news isn’t great for Google. According to reports, the U.S. Department of Justice is preparing for a possible antitrust investigation of Google’s business practices, and is watching the company’s behavior closely. Given this increased scrutiny, one would think Google would be going over its privacy policies with a fine-toothed comb — especially in areas that are newly coming under fire, like policies around consumers’ voice data — to ensure that consumers understand how their data is being stored, shared, and used.

Google also notes today that people do have a way to opt-out of having their audio data stored. Users can either turn off audio data storage entirely, or choose to have the data auto-delete every 3 months or every 18 months.

The company also says it will work to better explain how this voice data is used going forward.

“We’re always working to improve how we explain our settings and privacy practices to people, and will be reviewing opportunities to further clarify how data is used to improve speech technology,” said Monsees.


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