Questa sessione è disponibile anche in italiano:Scienza e tecne al tempo del Covid-19

Dieses Dokument gibt es auch in einer deutschen Version:Technologie und Wissenschaft in Zeiten von COVID-19

The politics of technology at a time like this can become much more apparent than when our digital infrastructures runs smoothly. Massive transition to digital communication, platform infrastrcutures and automated processes as we avoid meeting live, doing shopping and direct human contact are bound to have long-term knock-on effects on technological ecosystem and yet larger effects on labour. The perennial technopolitical concerns over lock-ins, net neutrality, dataveillance, ownership over data, public ownership over communication infrastructure and the entrenched power of technological oligopolies are staring at us back.

This session, unlike others presented here, does not contain tips for moving into action (unless, perhaps, if you are an engineer), but it offers an archive of relevant news that can help to start common debates and reflections on what demands we should collectively place for a more just technopolitical future.


During this crisis, online video conferencing has come to the fore. Many management strategies for COVID-19 involve increased use of VPNs and online video chats that rely on digital infrastructure. A growing number of colleges are moving classes to online platforms. Yet few of us pay attention to extra burden than the increased data traffic is placing on the capacity of the net and the individual providers and how this will impact differently those with slower or more limited access. Also, more essential online services, for example conference calls between healthcare practitioners and patients, find themselves competing with less essential apps and games. In China, for instance, several crashes have been reported.

Public health and safety are the top priorities in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. Data centers play a key behind-the-scenes role, providing mission-critical technology to support emergency communication for public agencies, emergency services and 911 systems. Major hospitals also rely upon data centers for data and images storage and transmission. Few are aware that data centres too are under pressure to continue to provide seamless services while also protecting their staff.

The role of connectivity is something that merits some collective reflection. One point of departure comes from Ian Alan Paul,

It appears that at least two new kinds of subjectivity have already begun to take shape, both of which are mutually constitutive, intimately dependent upon, and shaped by the informatic infrastructures and apparatuses that now run through and organize much of our planetary society. On the one hand, we have the domesticated/connected subject, who in being confined to their home is pushed to invent new ways to reconnect to and participate in a virtualized economy. On the other hand, we have the mobile/disposable subject that serves as the circulatory system of the pandemic, a subject that becomes increasingly vulnerable and precarious as it is compelled to move at ever greater velocities. In order for domesticated/connected subjects to materially sustain themselves, they must be coupled with the mobile/disposable subject that fulfills the minimum material needs of society while ensuring the social possibility of isolated yet networked domestic life.

Problems with corporate tools

Many of the connectivity and remote working tools that have become widely adopted during the lockdowns, some have come under public scrutiny for having policies that might damage their users.

Gennie Gebhart, associate director of research for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading nonprofit digital rights group, warned that “As we move more of our everyday lives onto these platforms, we’re going to be looking at new and different and maybe even greater privacy risks in terms of corporate surveillance and employer surveillance”.

SLACK: Your boss may be able to read your Slack DMs and Slack retains data, even when you can’t see it.

SOURCE: Slack, Zoom, Google Hangouts: Are Your Remote Work Apps Spying on You?

ZOOM: According to Jamie Zawinski, one of the founders of Netscape and, Zoom is particularly ‘terrible’:

Zoom’s privacy page states: “Whether you have Zoom account or not, we may collect Personal Data from or about you when you use or otherwise interact with our Products.” This includes, but is not limited to, your physical address, phone number, your job title, credit and debit card information, your Facebook account, your IP address, your OS and device details, and more.” Further, the app allows your boss to spy on you far beyond what’s okay in an office setting (Zoom has an attention-tracking feature that can alert hosts if you look away (update: as of April 2, 2020, Zoom have removed the attendee attention tracker feature due to widespread protests).. From EFF: […] “Admins have the ability to join any call at any time on their organization’s instance of Zoom, without in-the-moment consent or warning for the attendees of the call.”

Zoom Meetings Aren’t End-To-End Encrypted, Despite Misleading Marketing: The meeting is secured with end-to-end encryption, at least according to Zoom’s website, its security white paper, and the user interface within the app. But despite this misleading marketing, the service actually does not support end-to-end encryption for video and audio content, at least as the term is commonly understood. Instead it offers what is usually called transport encryption. […]

Without end-to-end encryption, Zoom has the technical ability to spy on private video meetings and could be compelled to hand over recordings of meetings to governments or law enforcement in response to legal requests. While other companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft publish transparency reports that describe exactly how many government requests for user data they receive from which countries and how many of those they comply with, Zoom does not publish a transparency report.

SOURCE: Zoom is bad and you should feel bad

We are very aware that engaging, experimenting with and learning about different tools and alternative technologies is something that not everyone is able to do, as conditions of work and life vary and often are not supportive of such extra efforts. However, the technopolitical aspect of the pandemic is calling for a very serious collective reflection around our technological futures. Could mainstream technological infrastructures be created beyond corporate solutions that extract data and provide employers and governments with biased surveillance tools? There are many initiatives out there that have been producing some amazing alternatives which go in the direction of empowering users and communities in their relationship with tech. While we are not purist in our approach, as our online presence is part of broad ecosystems and connectivity is in this time more important than ever, we hope some of the resources linked here will inspire and sustain others in become less entangled with set ups we don’t want nor consent to.

Alternative tools

Introduction to some of the key issues:

(some) Video conferencing tools

  • - a multi-user video conference client, or use ours, all our tools are 100% free, open source, and WebRTC compatible.
  • Collective Tools: a cooperative cloud company. Encrypted open source video conferencing.
  • - free, no limit on participants, in a browser, no login/account, and fully p2p encrypted even in multiple-participants calls
  • [](no registration, browser-based, FLOSS)
  • []

Repositories with v useful resources / tools:

Robots, AI and the automation of healthcare

While the corporate sector emphasizes the benefits of digital tools for healthcare, they are usually less keen to speak about issues such as the politics of surveillance and data collection; the private ownership of key software and tools which hospitals might end up relying upon; the loss of jobs in the care sector and the repercussions on the quality of care that automated, remote services might generate.

IN CHINA: Chinese technology giants are accelerating their efforts in the field of health-care technology in areas from cloud computing to artificial intelligence (AI) amid the new coronavirus outbreak. Giant companies such as Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent, Huawei and DiDi have all launched new health tech features aimed at diagnosing cases and finding a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Hospitals in China have turned to a trio of robots to help halt the spread of the flu-type virus. The robots include a food delivery robot, sanitizing robot, and directional guiding robot that can help people avoid unnecessary human contact. They are currently being utilized across 10 provinces in Chinese hospitals.

China has become the world’s largest market for industrial robotics and the fastest-growing market worldwide, surging 21% to $5.4 billion in 2019, while global sales hit $16.5 billion, according to the International Federation of Robotics in Frankfurt. China counts more than 800 robot makers, including major players SIASUN and DJI Innovations. China is on track to account for 45% of all industrial robot shipments by 2021, up from 39% in 2019. One robot that can work a 24-hour shift can replace three workers and cost in the range of $43,000 to $72,000. With salaries in China going up as much as 20% annually in recent years, China business consultant Bill Edwards foresees an inevitable push to robotics. “Wages in China are no longer cheap,” he observed.

Open Access

Open access to scientific knowledge remains one of the central demands for healthcare justice. Laboratories around the world have been able to share genome sequences of the newly emerging coronavirus (hCoV-19) through GISAID, an initiative that promotes the international sharing of all influenza virus sequences to help researchers understand how the viruses evolve, spread and potentially become pandemics. GISAID does so by overcoming disincentives/hurdles or restrictions, which discourage or prevented sharing of influenza data prior to formal publication. The Initiative ensures that open access to data in GISAID is provided free-of-charge and to everyone. However, the GISAID is an exception to the way medical/scientific research and data are kept as privatized assets to be capitalized upon. In 2015, Liberian public health officials co-authored a New York Times op-ed that lamented the amount of critical Ebola research that was unknown or inaccessible to scientists and health workers at the center of the 2014 epidemic.

To bypass existing paywalls, in January 2020 a group of online archivists have created an open-access directory of over 5,000 scientific studies about coronaviruses that anyone can browse and download. The download was made possible via Sci-Hub, a free scientific research repository sometimes called “the Pirate Bay of science.” Sci-Hub’s site says it provides free access to over 78 million research articles by downloading HTML and PDF pages off the web, in some cases bypassing paywalls. Because of this, major scientific publishing companies—most prominently Elsevier—have repeatedly sued Sci-Hub for copyright infringement.

The responses of the maker scene

Amid the global shortage of medical supplies and equipments, various makerspaces and fablabs have been discussing and mobilising around certain areas of intervention, calling attention once again to the political tension between autonomous technologies and the necessity of regulations and standards. This is a tension that is not resolved with quick deliberation, but one that merits a large collective reflection moving forward.

A key example from Italy took place at the Chiari Hospital (Brescia), which had to face an emergency within the emergency, when the medical staff realized that the supply of valves necessary for the functioning of a resuscitation tool was running out and that the manufacturer had run out of spare parts due to the high demand. A local 3D printing company, involved by a Milanese fablab, was contacted and they were able to produce a copy of the valve in less than 6 hours. However, the manufacturer is now menacing to sue and technically producing this piece of equipment could also incur in legal troubles as it has not been certified as safe by the health authorities. The Italian Republic, like many others, could stop or prevent an eventual lawsuit via a legislative act of 2005 (LD 10 February 2005, n. 30, Art. 141) regulating state expropriations of registered or patented industrial property rights if this is “in the interest of the country’s military defense or for other reasons of public utility.” (via @zoescope).

Further reading

Other Makers resources

The problem with working online

As many tasks and meetings are moved online, including, crucially, teaching activities, we urgently need a workers-led reflection on the use and owneership of online platforms. These tools risk to prepare the terrain for a restructuring of working conditions that might justify further layoffs and increase worker’s surveillance. Importantly, issues of ownership of these technological infrastructure (owned by companies that are making profit via the licences and the reselling of the data collected); questions of privacy and opt-out options for users; and of control over the generated contents (let’s think for example, at lectures being recorded which can then be used to replace teachers) feature strongly here. If you are part of a union or if your workplace is introducing tools for remote workflows, consider raising some of the issues and launching an equiry into what tool are deployed and how.

Here is a reflection from a teacher on the rush to move all teaching online:

For my colleagues who are now being instructed to put some or all of the remainder of their semester online, now is a time to do a poor job of it. You are NOT building an online class. You are NOT teaching students who can be expected to be ready to learn online. And, most importantly, your class is NOT the highest priority of their OR your life right now. Release yourself from high expectations right now, because that’s the best way to help your students learn. If you are getting sucked into the pedagogy of online learning or just now discovering that there are some pretty awesome tools out there to support students online, stop. Stop now. Ask yourself: Do I really care about this? (Probably not, or else you would have explored it earlier.) Or am I trying to prove that I’m a team player? (You are, and don’t let your university exploit that.) Or I am trying to soothe myself in the face of a pandemic by doing something that makes life feel normal? (If you are, stop and instead put your energy to better use, like by protesting in favor of eviction freezes or packing up sacks of groceries for kids who won’t get meals because public schools are closing.)


Concerns around the use and abuse of tracking technologies during the pandemic abound.

Some articles tracing the cources of concern:

-U.S. and Europe Turn to Phone-Tracking Strategies to Slow Spread of Coronavirus. The Wall Street Jurnal, April 3rd 2020

While some initiatives, campaigns and collectives are starting to push back:

In the Netherlands: Safe against Corona. Protect our health and protect our rights The Dutch government is exploring the use of an app meant to offer you insight into whether you have been in the proximity of someone infected with the COVID-19-virus. Should the authorities deploy such an app, then it should meet with the following requirements. These requirements have been drawn up by experts in the fields of information technology, computer security, privacy and the protection of constitutional rights. We believe these principles to be necessary for the protection of our freedoms and rights as well as our safety and social cohesion. Should these principles not be met, we don’t have confidence in any such app and we will resist its implementation.

Further reading

Series of 3 articles by By Jaromil (

Other resources from Pirate Care

Further Resources