London Tech Week 2021 Talks Sex, Neurodivergence & Data
From women’s health and pleasure to supporting neurodivergent consumers, topics on the agenda at London Tech Week 2021 (September 20-24) indicate the industry is stepping in a more empathetic and inclusive direction. We also heard how the pandemic has accelerated questions of data sovereignty, and made privacy a paramount consumer concern.
- The Pleasure Principle: As covered in Sexual (R)evolutions, part of our Commercialising Pleasure Spotlight Trend, new app Kama delivers a daily sexual wellness practice, based on the ethos that pleasure is health. Founder Chloe Macintosh told London Tech Week (LTW) attendees that “the category [of sexual wellbeing] came very late in people’s understanding of what wellbeing really is.”
This is changing, though. The sector is already worth $22.5bn globally, and predicted to increase by 16.2% CAGR to 2027 (Global Market Insights, 2021). And March 2021 saw the launch of the world’s first fund dedicated to investing in sexual health and women’s health technology, Amboy Street Ventures (ASV). Chief executive Dominnique Karetsos said that while ASV’s primary objective is about fuelling innovation and investment, it’s also about dismantling the taboo around vice. “It’s about raising the industry up […] It’s not just femtech or sex tech, it’s sexual health and technology; let’s give our industry the credibility that is due.”
The panel featured women-helmed femtech start-ups Awkward Essentials – whose post-coital clean-up product, the Dripstick, went viral earlier this year; and Private Packs – a discreet, reusable gel-based wearable that cools and soothes the vulva (intended for postpartum use, or after intimate waxing or sex).
We cannot talk about sex without talking about technology in the future.
- Designing for Neurodiversity: One in seven of the population is neurodivergent (BBC, 2020). Both in recruitment processes (Microsoft and Dell have established autism hiring programmes) and the development and testing of devices (see our report Techquity: Closing Digital Divides), the industry is starting to pay overdue attention to this cohort.
LTW heard from British neurodiverse software developer Ashley Peacock, co-founder of accessibility-first design agency Passio. “With a lot of technology, it's still not necessarily what is designed, but how it is designed,” she said. “You can create the world's best online learning platform, but if it hasn't been co-designed and it's not accessible, then you're perpetuating the same problems.”
If you ask the wrong questions, you'll find the wrong problem, and you will also build the wrong solution … Whoever best describes the problem is the one who's most likely likely to solve it.
- Passio’s recent projects include the Autistic Space Kit 2, a co-designed app that provides quick-access support to people experiencing a meltdown and helps them quickly communicate their needs. With just a tap, the tool displays a sequence of pre-set messages (users can customise the timing and messaging) to members of the public, as well as sending their live location and ‘help’ message to their trusted contacts.
Another Passio app interface, eyePoint, helps clinicans to assess and record eyepointing behaviour in children with cerebral palsy (who are often reliant on using their gaze to communicate with the world). See also Covid-19 Empathy: Tech Supports Access & Inclusivity.
- The Great Data Awakening: “One of the beneficial effects [of Covid-19] is that it’s prompted people to think about […] where our government, healthcare researchers and pharma companies are getting data,” said Tim Roberts, managing director and UK co-head of American consulting firm AlixPartners. “People are seeing the value of that data and the value of sharing that data, but also seeing the trade-offs.”
If companies want to build and maintain trust, Roberts advised, they must address three key aspects for their audience: “‘Am I clear what I’m doing with your data?’ ‘Have I given you a reason to believe I will do what I’ve said with your data?’ and ‘Do I actually do what I’ve said I would do with your data?’”
Showing that big tech is heeding these concerns, Apple announced a new app privacy report in June. See also Tech + Privacy: What Consumers Want and The Brief for more.