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Message posted on 14/01/2020

Call for papers: ”Surveillance infrastructures or open platforms?”



Dear Colleagues,

We wish to invite you to submit an abstract proposal to the panel
Surveillance infrastructures or open platforms? Aid and control of vulnerable
populations through digital data (track 12) at the 8th STS Italia Conference
Dis/Entangling Technoscience: Vulnerability, Responsibility and Justice,
University of Trieste, Italy, 18-20 June 2020.

Information about the conference can be found at this link Abstract must be
submitted by February 9th.For any questions please email

Best regards,

Lorenzo Olivieri and Annalisa Pelizza

Track 12: Surveillance infrastructures or open platforms? Aid and control of
vulnerable populations through digital data


Annalisa, Pelizza, University of Bologna,

Lorenzo, Olivieri, University of Bologna,

Panel description:

The multiple ways in which data infrastructures and digital platforms can
shape the organisation of society are clearly revealed when it comes to
vulnerable populations like refugees, minors, the elderly, to name a few.
There seems to exist a division of labour in this field, between data
infrastructures conceived of as control tools and platforms as selfempowering
resources. On the one hand, data infrastructures are obligatory passage points
at any step of the processing of vulnerable populations, both by governmental
and humanitarian actors. On the other hand, the semantic richness and
ambiguity of the term platform allows attracting users, clients and
advertisers by promising an open, neutral and egalitarian space. Facebook,
Whatsapp and Twitter, for example, play an increasingly important role in the
movement of migrants and asylum seekers, enhancing their possibilities of
sharing information. Yet closer attention shows a more articulated landscape.
While institutional data infrastructures allow controlling people and
mobility, they also give access to welfare services like healthcare and
shelter. While commercial platforms allow bottom-up coordination and
selfmanagement, they exert a role on delicate issues such as privacy, mobility
tracking, identitybuilding. They represent a further source of control
available to governments and European agencies. In addition, private companies
analyse the data and meta-data of their users for commercial purposes,
eliciting a further tension between vulnerable-people-as-everydayconsumers and
vulnerable-people-as-such. Within this context, the technical affordances of
each platform are decisive in determining uses. For example, migrants choose
to use Whatsapp chats because they are encrypted. Minors communicate in
Facebook closed groups to avoid parental control. Tailored platforms - like or WatchTheMed, anonymizations techniques and zero
knowledge architectures might become a crucial factor in the management and
protection of vulnerable people. This panel invites presentations discussing
the two-fold dimension inherent to data infrastructures and platforms: how do
they allow empowering innovations in the communications strategies of
vulnerable people? How do they on the contrary produce novel or exacerbate
already existing vulnerabilities? How is the modern distinction between
government, business and civil society de facto reshuffled as a consequence?

Contributions are expected to address, but are not limited to:

Development and use of tailored platforms in the humanitarian sector or by
local, bottom-up communities
Co-optation of private companies in surveillance and risk analysis
Accessibility, privacy and vulnerability issues at stake in the use of
platforms by migrants and infrastructures about migrants
Inscription of migrants identities in interfaces, classifications and


Kind regards,
Anna Melnyk
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