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Message posted on 14/01/2020

Call for abstracts - 8th STS Italia Conference

Dear list members,

apologies for cross-posting.

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 9^th . 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,
and ontologies.
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