Aidwashing surveillance: Critiquing the corporate exploitation of humanitarian crises

Aaron Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Private sector actors have long been involved in surveillance. This extends to surveillance undertaken in crisis contexts and conflict situations, where humanitarian needs commonly arise. Prior research has problematized the surveillance-industrial complex’s involvement in aid initiatives and humanitarian interventions, but new dynamics are creating novel dilemmas. This contribution to a dialogue on surveillance in contemporary conflict discusses how surveillance firms are exploiting humanitarian crises as a means to aidwash their technologies and services. In this context, aidwashing practices involve the use of corporate social responsibility initiatives and forms of public-private partnership with aid actors to burnish surveillance firms’ reputations and distract the public from corporate misbehavior, ethical misdeeds, and dubious data practices. In this piece, I draw on two recent cases—a partnership to develop advanced data analytics for the optimization of humanitarian food assistance and the donation of facial recognition services in an ongoing armed conflict—to interrogate the surveillance industry’s public relations activities in humanitarian emergencies and conflict situations and reflect on the inner workings of—and resistance to—aidwashing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)96-102
Number of pages7
Journalsurveillance and society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2023


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