Why I didn’t sign the Fundingmatters.tech petition

Thoughts on ethics at the intersection of academic research on law & tech and industry involvement

In 2018, academic storms start on Twitter. One of them has been the public concern surrounding the sponsors accepted by this year’s Amsterdam Privacy Conference. The Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University was hosting one of the panels at the conference until they withdrew. The reason? Data analytics company Palantir was one of the Platinum Sponsors at APC. Palantir has faced a lot of public backlash after different allegations, such as having collaborated with Cambridge Analytica on the Facebook data acquired by the latter, doing commercial data profiling or helping the US government on surveilling its citizens. In a nutshell, Palantir has a bad reputation. This is why a petition was created, fundingmatters.tech, now signed by over 60 academics from around the world, publicly asking for the removal of Palantir from the sponsor list.

As co-authors who have successfully submitted a paper (‘Moving fast and breaking things: Social media, data brokers and unfair commercial practices’) for the ‘Regulation of the information society’ panel, Stephan Mulders and I decided not to sign this petition, and in what follows I will defend this choice and take this opportunity to address some related ethical questions which any academic currently working on law and technology should reflect on.

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Influencers on Social media – Between Law and Ethics

25 September 2018, Brown Bag Lunch
12.15-13.45, MakerSpace (room beside Mensa), University of St. Gallen

Social media has been changing the way in which people communicate, and that is nothing new. The emergence of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Youtube or – more recently –Musical.ly has transformed social interaction in peer-networks. This transformation can be noticed by anyone participating in or observing such networks. What is less noticeable, though, is how business models have changed to benefit from these shifts in social trends.

One industry where business practices have been fundamentally impacted is the advertising industry. While in the early days of social media marketing, social networks were used to establish online brand identity, since 2015 a new advertising concept has been sweeping the online space: influencer marketing. Based on peer empowerment – anyone with a camera and internet connection can start producing content for an online social media platform, influencer marketing is to social media what native advertising is to the news world. Persons with well- followed social media accounts lend their brand image for the endorsement of goods or services, while rarely – if at all – disclosing that their support does not necessarily entail genuine appreciation for the endorsed things, but that such support is paid or bartered for.

This event aims to discuss influencer marketing using insights from private law, ethics as well as journalistic practice. Register by sending an e-mail to isabel.ebert@unisg.ch by 23 September. Exceptionally, Skype connections may also be available for streaming.

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IACL Younger Scholars Forum (Fukuoka, 25 July 2018) – A Brief Overview

Technology and Innovation: Challenges for Traditional Legal Boundaries’ Workshop

The 20th Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law (IACL) took place this year in Fukuoka, Japan, between 22-28 July. Apart from bringing together established comparative law scholars from different fields and jurisdictions, the Congress also hosted the first edition of the IACL Younger Scholars Forum, convened by Richard Albert(Professor of Law at the University of Texas at Austin), the former president of the Younger Comparativists Committee of the American Society of Comparative Law.

With this occasion, 200 young scholars around the world had the opportunity to engage in an international academic debate and discuss their research through eight different workshops. Sofia Ranchordás (Professor of European and Comparative Public Law, University of Groningen), Andras Koltay (Associate Professor of Constitutional Law, Pázmány Péter Catholic University) and I had the pleasure of organizing one of the eight workshops, titled ‘Technology and Innovation: Challenges for Traditional Legal Boundaries’. The workshop covered discussions on 23 papers, which we grouped around 6 different themes: Privacy and Data Protection; Media Law and Free Speech; Challenges in Intellectual Property; Online Platforms; Business Law, Blockchain & RegTech, and AI Law. Young scholars from around the world were in attendance and their papers were commented upon by the Distinguished Provocateur-Discussant (Sofia Ranchordas), with the purpose of stimulating the consideration of new angles for their submissions.

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The Land Portal Foundation Partners Up with Maastricht University for Student Research Project on Land Governance

Press release

Research education is one of Maastricht University’s CORE values: to take the university social responsibility seriously by linking the university to society, from the local to the global level, and to do so by creating open access knowledge which can further strengthen connections with society. One of the educational projects in the current academic year that aims to meet these goals is the collaboration between the Faculty of Law’s Skills: Introduction to Comparative Law course and the Land Portal Foundation. After establishing the platform in 2009 as a partnership project dedicated to supporting the efforts of the rural poor to gain equitable access to land by addressing the fragmentation of information resources on land, the Land Portal eventually became an independent non-for-profit organization, based in the Netherlands in 2014. Through a variety of initiatives and partnerships, the Land Portal works to create a better information ecosystem for land governance through a platform based on cutting-edge open data technologies. According to professor Leon Verstappen (University of Groningen), the chairman and founder of the Foundation:

‘The Land Portal is world leading in providing access to information and data on land issues. We adhere to linked open data principles. We dig deep into countries to find and open up information on land.’

The Foundation has recently received a new £1.3 million subsidy from the Department for International Development of the British Government.

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You Don’t Need to Be a Superhero to Be in the Justice League: Rethinking Justice Hackathon (3-4 March 2018, Brightlands Smart Services Campus)

Making the world a better place is easier said than done. Ours is a shared world: citizens, businesses, states and institutions all face the same risks and challenges, and so there is a constant need for society to innovate – to find better ways of doing things. Ideally, this can be done in order to bring about more justice in the world. What we mean by justice is simply more fairness, in the way in which citizens, civil society, businesses and public institutions interact with one another. While thinking about broad theme has its advantages, we want to create a nurturing environment and mindset where someone with an idea can go ahead and do something about it. This is how the Rethinking Justice Hackathon came to life: students, staff and alumni from Maastricht University, as well as friends from industry, coming together in a 24-hour hackathon to celebrate free thinking and enthusiastic doing.

As one of the youngest Dutch universities, Maastricht’s pedagogy has always stood out because of its Problem-Based Learning (PBL) approach: departing from real-life problems and learning by doing, either through independent inquiry or group collaboration. For this reason, we consider hackathons and PBL to be a match made in heaven: creativity, leadership, perseverance, empathy, communication – all of these 21st century skills that are so central to modern work experiences have friendly roots in the pedagogical concepts of Maastricht University education.

Organized by the independent law & tech community Technolawgeeks with the support of Maastricht University and the Brightlands Smart Services Campus, the hackathon celebrated rethinking justice in four different challenges: The Hague Institute for the Innovation of Law (Social Justice challenge); eBay (E-Commerce Conflicts challenge); Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts (Courts of the Future challenge); and Maastricht University’s Institute of Data Science (Data-Driven Justice challenge). Each of the partners hosted a workshop for participants (online/offline), to share with them how to relate to the challenges from the perspective of their own disciplines and expertise, while also allowing the participants to immerse in the way of thinking of the Hackathon partners.

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Innov-AI-tion Law for Technology 4.0 – An Interdisciplinary Conference

The European and global society is gradually transitioning into the fourth industrial revolution, marked by an exponential technological advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI), such as works of art created by AI systems, algorithmic decision-making and autonomous vehicles. The profound transformation of our society creates a pressing need for a clear legal framework that the EU is currently seeking to develop within Digital Single Market, notably through the adoption of the recent EP Resolution on Civil Law Rules on Robotics.

The conference will be composed of three panels, tackling respectively the questions of private law, IP and privacy (please see below the conference programme). The concept of the conference is rather unique, as each topic will be covered by two presenters having different backgrounds (one from law and another from technology).

The conference undertakes to respond to the quest for establishment of a regulatory framework by putting to debate questions still unsolved that touch upon several fields of law:

(i) Private law: What types of regulation should govern AI liability, and which actors should be involved in these regulatory approaches?

(ii) IP law: Who should hold copyright over works of art created by AI agents and can AI-generated inventions be patented? How does the IP and data interface work in the context of AI?

(iii) Privacy law: How to protect privacy and ensure accountability for decisions taken by autonomous AI agents affecting humans (e.g. automated tax decisions)?

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