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Open Access The extractive infrastructures of contact tracing apps

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The COVID-19 pandemic will go down in history as a major crisis, with calls for debt moratoriums that are expected to have gruesome effects in the Global South. Another tale of this crisis that would come to dominate COVID-19 news across the world was a new technological application: the contact tracing apps. In this article, we argue that both accounts ‐ economic implications for the Global South and the ideology of techno-solutionism ‐ are closely related. We map the phenomenon of the tracing app onto past and present wealth accumulations. To understand these exploitative realities, we focus on the implications of contact tracing apps and their relation with extractive technologies as we build on the notion racial capitalism. By presenting themselves in isolation of capitalism and extractivism, contact tracing apps hide raw realities, concealing the supply chains that allow the production of these technologies and the exploitative conditions of labour that make their computational magic manifest itself. As a result of this artificial separation, the technological solutionism of contract tracing apps is ultimately presented as a moral choice between life and death. We regard our work as requiring continuous undoing ‐ a necessary but unfinished formal dismantling of colonial structures through decolonial resistance.

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Keywords: capital accumulation; decolonial computing; exploitation; extractivism; racial capitalism; techno-solutionism; tracing apps

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest and 0000000090468598University of Westminster 2: The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest and Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, TU Delft 3: The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest and 0000000121916040Goldsmiths University of London 4: The Institute for Technology in the Public Interest and Constant, Association for Art and Media, Brussels

Publication date: August 1, 2020

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