Key focus areas
The ITSL's research focuses on the interaction of new technologies and various disciplines including communication sciences, sociology, psychology, geography, ethics, and law. The ITSL’s key focus currently lies with the following research projects:
Between Solidarity and Personalisation - Big Data in the Insurance Industry
The insurance industry has a genuine interest in Big Data applications. By applying profiling or predictive analytics techniques and by using quantified self applications, specific risks of an insured person can be assessed more precisely. At the same time, the moral foundation of any insurance system is solidarity; individual risks should be distributed among all insured persons. These conflicting goals are to some extent paradigmatic for the challenges brought about by digitalization. The ITSL participates in an interdisciplinary project funded by the National Research Program (NRP 75 – Big Data) which analyses this conflict and brings together researchers from ethics, economics and law.
Foundations of the Right to Privacy
Nowadays, information and communication technologies allow mass collection and analysis of personal data. Against this background, the right to privacy is of major scholarly interest. But despite the fact that this right’s origins date back to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, its exact scope remains relatively blurry. In this research project, we examine the foundations of the right to privacy and analyse how modern data protection law draws on this right.
The increasing number of data-driven business models as well as the growing importance and value of data have spurred the question whether data belong to someone, and if so, to whom. While the topic has already entered the political sphere, a number of key questions remain unanswered or were, to date, only touched upon briefly. A one-year research project funded by the Hasler Foundation addresses these fundamental questions regarding such a potential exclusivity right on data: How can such a right be justified? What would be its scope and limitations? And how could it be implemented?
These questions were discussed in public on 29 March 2017 at an event hosted by ITSL. From 6 to 8 July 2017, ITSL held an international expert workshop with scientists in the field of law and computer science. The workshop was sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and its main insights are compiled in a Workshop Summary (PDF, 223 KB).
Rethink Privacy! Towards a Harms-Focused Governance of Digital Traces
Privacy is a key factor for individual and social well-being. In the digital age, ubiquitous data processing practices by businesses and government agencies and the abundant digital traces we knowingly or unknowingly leave behind affect privacy in various ways with consequences for individuals and society. To ensure that the processing of digital traces ultimately benefits individuals and society, we launch a research project that rethinks privacy with a synergetic combination of four perspectives: Philosophy, communication studies, law, and technology.
This research project is structured in three parts. In the first part – Deconstructing Privacy – the project explores the definitions, ascriptions, perceptions, and concepts of privacy as well as existing mechanisms to protect it. Upon these findings, the second part – Reshaping Privacy – starts out on the presumption that the processing of digital traces can be both beneficial and harmful, and that current regulatory and technical attempts have their limitations to successfully fight the actual harms, thereby curtailing important benefits. We explore three (potential) harms that are particularly important: manipulation, discrimination, and chilling effects. By analyzing these harms we develop a better understanding of how they affect individuals, groups, and society at large. In the third part – Governing Privacy – all disciplines jointly devise governance arrangements that minimize the harms caused by the processing of digital traces while allowing the benefits to come to fruition. Based on a comparison of the governance recommendations for the three harms, we ultimately aim to draw up the foundations for a new governance framework for privacy in the digital age.
Breakfast of Ideas for PhDs and PostDocs
The Breakfast of Ideas is a peer mentoring group for aspiring researches that aims at fostering a transdisciplinary understanding of issues and challenges connected to the digitization of society. The Breakfast of Ideas gratefully acknowledges funding by the UZH Graduate Campus via a GRC Grant.
During four annual breakfast meetings PhD candidates and postdoc researchers from different departments connect and exchanges ideas in an informal setting. This allows young researchers to receive inputs from multiple perspectives such as computer science, economics, law, and humanities and eliminate blind spots in their research. The Breakfast of Ideas sessions are recorded and published in a podcast in order to proliferate the ideas to a broader audience. Podcast are available here.
Upcoming events: March 28, June 26, and September 26 2019 @ UZH, Rämistrasse 71 in KOL G-210 from 8:15 to 10 am.
Artificial Intelligence Briefing (Foundation for Technology Assessment)
On behalf of the Foundation for Technology Assessment (TA-Swiss), the ITSL in conjunction with other researchers from Switzerland and Austria conducts an interdisciplinary study on the risks and opportunities of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The research group consists of researchers from the fields of informatics, business administration, economics, educational sciences, communication science, law and ethics. The study’s main objective is enabling policy makers to make informed decisions with regard to AI. The interdisciplinary study evaluates the impact AI has on four main areas: the world of work, education, consumption and administration. An emphasis is put on deep learning algorithms; however, other forms of AI are also subject to investigation. The study group has concluded a literature review; currently the researchers are pre-testing an expert survey evaluating expert opinions on trends and challenges in the four areas. Based on the expert survey, the study will render a set of policy recommendations and options.
Technological progress – especially in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning – leads to decisions being made automatically in more and more areas of daily life. Because it is ultimately algorithms that convey a result on the basis of certain decision-relevant parameters, the literature uses the terminologies "automated" and "algorithmic" decisions interchangeably.
Policymakers have become aware of the automation of everyday life and the associated delegation of certain human decision-making processes to machines. Since May 2018, for example, the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) addresses this phenomenon in different provisions and recitals. Although such legal approaches exist, research on how policymakers should regulate issues surrounding automated decision-making is still in its infancy.
In this research project, the ITSL examines the nature and characteristics of automated decision-making on the one hand, and the need for and design of regulation on the other. The combination of these two complementary parts provides answers to the central research question of how to deal with automated decision-making from a regulatory point of view.