Our perspiration might contain intimate secrets

Should we start sweating about it?

An emerging forensic discipline will allow scientists and investigators to extract identifying information about individuals from the sweat residue they leave behind. From the level of stress hormones released in one’s blood, or their diet, to drugs used, very intimate information can be extracted directly from one’s sweat.

Sarah Evers in her book The Joy of Sweat: The Strange Science of Perspiration explores new opportunities and challenges that research into sweat introduces. Except for markers of disease being present in sweat, further analyses might possibly “​​distinguish vegans from meat eaters, based on chemicals left behind in sweaty fingerprints,” or identify   “biological sex and age” of an individual.

In the era of quantified self and countless tracking apps, we might be able to understand our inner workings (and visualize them) based on the extractions of the sweat we’re leaving behind. Scientists are working on development of adhesive patches communicating with smartphones, or solutions for smartwatches.

An older Verge article about the challenges of sweat research suggests that sweat residues “can be a real giveaway, and there’s almost no chance of any two people having the same sweat profile.”

Analysis of sweat has, similarly to any other (bio) technology, both practical and dystopian potential. Together with facial recognition, voice recognition, or the practice of collecting online data or metadata, it might further contribute to surveillance of individuals and possibly reproduce and reinforce the existing biases embedded in systems and technologies our bodies interact with.

Do the pros of biomedical technologies outweigh their cons? Is it possible to protect our privacy and bio-data in an era of sophisticated technologies?

Tomorrow, on 2 September, at IMPAKT TV we delve deeper into these themes. We will go into conversation with Dr. Heather Dewey-Hagborg, DNA surveillance artist and researcher to discuss her projects, and the potentials and risks of DNA surveillance.

IMPAKT TV is a free event. Register here to receive the streaming link

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