Every year at SXSW Interactive, pressing themes emerge in the conference lineup that reflect current trends and hot issues that challenge internet businesses and website users.
At the same time, it's difficult not to be cynical seeing themes and trends that reflect a culture of relentless corporate self-promotion and the predictable parade of sessions that masquerade as valid content but are shallow vehicles for startup pitches and brand launches.
Spotting genuine hot topics isn't actually that difficult. Attendees are encouraged to vote with their feet, and they do.
Distractingly, this year a significant number of sessions have added the word "sexy" or "sex" (and even claim they will tie in the topic of sex to subjects like big data) in bids to grab attention.
This led some pundits to opine that there were a lot of sex panels - and that Monday is a "sexy day" - when in actuality the sessions simply had "sex" in the title and the sex and tech sessions are well distributed across conference days.
What's particularly of interest to me at SXSW 2012 is that the topic of sex is closely married to an increasingly strong focus on data and personal privacy, combined with anonymity and security - especially in how these issues relate to social networks.
If you're attending the conference (or simply want to see what's got key internet figures talking about privacy, security and human sexuality) check out my SXSW 2012 Sex Tech highlights below.
- Debate: Should Social Sites Allow Anonymous Users? - Saturday March 10, 2012 11:00am-12:00pm. Facebook has taken a firm position that it will require real names, even at the cost of disappearances of human rights activists around the world. Other sites have suffered as anonymous speakers poison the conversation and use the shield of anonymity to harass women. What's a social site to do? Join two of the Internet's top lawyers, EFF's Legal Director Cindy Cohn and Colette Vogele, as they debate the issue.
- Sex Nets: Pickup Artists vs. Feminists - Saturday March 10, 2012 6:30pm-7:30pm. A panel of men and women ranging from seasoned pick-up artists, to outspoken feminist bloggers examine the realities of social media and geolocation technologies and whether or not the digital pickup artist is ethical - or successful.
- Security and Privacy in Social Networks - Sunday March 11, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm. This panel including a Twitter security engineer and an EFF activist explores the interplay between user privacy, social networking sites, law enforcement, and the teams of people that are tasked with both enforcing and protecting the users of these sites.
- Sex, Lies and Cookies: Web Privacy EXPOSED! - Monday March 12, 2012 12:30pm-1:30pm. Heavy hitter panelists including security researcher Christopher Soghoian look into the world of data collection and privacy on the internet, asking tough questions about what “tracking” really entails.
- Sex, Dating and Privacy Online (Disclosure: I am on this panel) - Monday March 12, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm. Panel covers having a social media life and writing about about sex, participation in online dating sites, and the tricky task of maintaining personal privacy.
- En/Forced Femme: Sex Workers and Social Media - Monday March 12, 2012 6:30pm-7:30pm. In light of privacy and personal security issues like Porn Wikileaks and the Google Plus nymwars, sex worker Kitty Stryker investigates what these issues mean for people in the business of sex.
- Social Media Boundaries: Personal/Personnel Policy - Tuesday March 13, 2012 11:00am - 12:00pm. Discussion covers navigating professional boundaries in tech and personal (often relationship or sexual) oversharing.
- This Talk Is NSFW: Nudity and Online Journalism - Tuesday March 13, 2012 5:00pm-6:00pm. The web editor from LA Weekly covers the myriad issues bloggers, journalists and web writers face when the subjects being covered are overtly sexual in nature.