The history of online security questions demonstrates how hegemonic beliefs about gender and sexuality have come to dictate the terms of “authentic” selfhood in contemporary digital spaces. Best known for their role in web-based information management, security questions have a history in North America that stretches back more than a hundred and fifty years—from Irish immigrant banking in New York in the mid-nineteenth century, to the rise of personal computing in the 1970s and 1980s, to today. Across this history, security questions have been structured around heteronormative expectations about users’ lives and relationships. This is nowhere more evident than in the canonical security question, “What is your mother's maiden name?” To trace the evolution of the security question, this article surveys industry writings on authentication protocols from the 1850s to the present. It argues for a reevaluation of the often-unquestioned logics that perpetuate discrimination through technologies of data.
What Is Your Mother's Maiden Name?: A Feminist History of Online Security Questions
Bonnie Ruberg is a postdoctoral scholar in the Interactive Media and Games Division at the University of Southern California and an assistant professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. They received their PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, with emphases in new media and gender studies. Their research focuses on gender and sexuality in digital media. They are the coeditor of the volume Queer Game Studies (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) and the lead organizer of the annual Queerness and Games Conference. Previously they have worked as a technology journalist for the Village Voice and other publications.
Bonnie Ruberg; What Is Your Mother's Maiden Name?: A Feminist History of Online Security Questions. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2017; 3 (3): 57–81. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2017.3.3.57
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