Funding of an international interdisciplinary project to understand about the designs of COVID-19 tracking apps and the impact on human rights.

The project entitled “Developing the socio-technical architecture method to inform policy choices in the shaping of COVID-19 digital infrastructure” is funded by the VolkswagenStiftung. In an interdisciplinary collaboration between Prof. Niva Elkin-Koren (The Buchmann Faculty of Law, Tel Aviv University, Israel), Wolfgang Schulz (Leibniz Institute for Media Research │ Hans Bredow Institute (HBI) in Hamburg, Germany), and Tilo Böhmann (IT Management & Consulting (ITMC), University of Hamburg, Germany), the project aims to develop a framework to inform policy choices in the shaping of digital infrastructures. Various COVID-19 tracking apps developed in Germany and Israel will be studied to understand the implications of different design decisions. In the end, this should result in an understanding that supports the assessment of the impact of policy decisions related to technologies during crises and beyond, including the impact on human rights. The project is supported on the German side by Christian Kurtz (IT Management & Consulting (ITMC), University of Hamburg, Germany) and Florian Wittner (Leibniz Institute for Media Research │ Hans Bredow Institute (HBI) in Hamburg, Germany). The start of the project is in spring 2021. The basis for the joint exchange and collaboration was the participation in the Summer School organized by the project Information Governance Technologies.

Privacy concerns with the Corona App?

Privacy concerns could make many potential users hesitant to use the Bluetooth-based app to contain the pandemic, as outlined by the developers. The President of the German Gesellschaft für Informatik Prof. Dr. Hannes Federrath, who is a member of the research project, considers the app harmless under certain conditions. He announced this in the fact check for “maischberger. die woche” broadcast on 01.04.2020:

“Bluetooth technology, as it is to be used in the case of the targeted Corona app, has the advantage over the use of, for example, location data from mobile radio that the distances to other smartphones in the vicinity can be measured very precisely and are only stored locally in the mobile phone. No movement profiles are created by the user and all data is stored under constantly changing identifiers. The main purpose of this app is to determine whether someone has been at a distance of less than two meters from an infected person for a long time. The identity of the user is not necessary for the notification at all and should therefore not be stored anywhere. If the data is transmitted in encrypted form and stored for a limited period of time – 21 days – there is no reason why this application should not be used from the point of view of data protection law and IT security.”

Hamburg interdisciplinary summer school inspired manifold discussions

© Leibniz-Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut / Christiane Matzen

The Hamburg Interdisciplinary Summer School “Governance Technologies: Privacy, Fairness & Transparency” was a terrific event. Held at the guest house of the Universität Hamburg and the adjacent Leibniz Institute for Media Research/Hans-Bredow-Institute, scientists from ten countries came together to discuss manifold ideas. Algorithmic accountability, information privacy, and european communication rights are only a few examples for the manifold topics discussed. The varying interdisciplinary backgrounds of all researchers mutually enriched one another. Furthermore, the presentations of our keynote-speakers – “The Online Tragedies and How to Resolve Them” by Nikolas Guggenberger, “Digital identities from a European perspective” by Bart Jacobs, “Law and Computer Science: Competing Legislators?” by Mireille Hildebrandt, and “Contesting Algorithms” by Niva Elkin-Koren – provided many opportunities for discourses. The panel discussions on domain-specific views on privacy, fairness, and transparency as well as the approaches of how to make interdisciplinary research work in the context of law, ethics & computer science were very insightful. Moreover, the visit to the panel discussion of the ThIS! event regarding responsible experimentation with AI: what to dare, how to care in OTTO’s executive lounge completed the variety of the summer school.

© Leibniz-Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut / Christiane Matzen

Key Note Speakers

The key note speakers and faculty of the summer school includes: 


Professor Mireille Hildebrandt, Vrije Universiteit Brussels (Belgium) & Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands)


Professor Bart Jacobs, Radboud University Nijmegen (Netherlands)


Professor Niva Elkin-Koren, Haifa University (Israel) & associate faculty at the Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University (USA)


Professor Nikolas Guggenberger, Universität Münster (Germany) & Information Society Project (Yale University, USA)