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The Quipu Kit: Reflecting on Privacy and Trust through Knotting


Vasiliki Tsaknaki (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark) 

Lara Reime (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

The Quipu kit invites for reflecting on relations to data by knotting experiences of privacy and trust in regard to Menstruation and Fertility Tracking Apps (MFTAs). It is informed by the Incan tradition of Quipu (or Khipu), which are recording devices made of knotted cords to represent notations, numbers, or language. The kit includes a booklet with instructions, prompts, and a selection of materials that can be used for making knotted artifacts, inspired by Quipu knotting. These aim to explore the security and reliability of data. The prompts invite one to read the privacy statement of the MFTA one is using, and to knot feelings and thoughts that emerged while reading it, as well as aspects of agency and ownership of data. They further invite participants to notice and knot new layers of trust and issues of data privacy when returning to using the app. To deepen engagement and reflections through materializing, the prompts include questions such as: How long did it take you to read the privacy statement? What type of (personal) data is collected through the app? Where and for how long is your data stored, inside and outside of the app? From what data collection can you opt out and what is always mandatory? 

Our work aims to scaffold a space for surfacing invisible and intimate relations of privacy and trust when using MFTAs. With the Quipu kit, one can create knotted archives that store tactile information on experiences and reflections of engaging with issues of privacy and trust. The kit can be used by current or previous users of a MFTA, or anybody who is curious to reflect on such issues. 

We find that curating what to knot, and the process of knotting itself, create a tangible awareness of data, and provide space for reflecting on one’s data rights and how it is protected, or not, through the apps. Knotting as a form of reflection and materialization also draws attention to the affective and emotional labour of making data, working with data and understanding it, and to the labour involved in using apps (such as reading privacy statements and regular data uploads). Moreover, the tactile process of knotting with yarns creates a space for raising awareness on the type of data that is aggregated, stored, and shared with third parties through MFTAs, but also on other types of data such as personal experiences, stories, and emotions.  


Content of Quipu kit

The Kit offers a variety of materials to create knotted artifacts inspired by Quipu knotting. We have listed them here if you want to create your own kit. These are some thoughts on how we imagined the kit to come together. Feel free to use the content however you see fit and substitute it with your own materials. 


Notebook/Tags: You might want to keep additional notes to remember the different meanings of your knots and yarns. But this is completely up to you. We have added a range of note keeping possibilities, such as a notebook or yarn-cards where yarns can be wrapped around. We have also added small tags that could be used to annotate your knots.

Yarns: We think it is useful to have a variation of yarns with differing qualities such as thickness, material, or color.

Tape/Clips: You can use the tape to store straps of yarns in your notebook or/and to stabilize them on a surface while you are knotting. An alternative could also be to wrap the main cord around your leg or another object.

Needles:  You can use needles or other small tools to unravel a knot.



We have created three prompts that are inviting you to engage with questions around data and privacy in the MFTA you are currently using or have used in the past. We suggest engaging with the prompts in the order they are sorted, as they build on each other. But if this does not work for you, feel free to skip and move around as you see fit. While engaging with the prompts, remember to keep notes of thoughts, feelings, and information that you then could knot either while reading the prompts, or at a later stage.