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Cookies, AirTags, metadata: Where does tracking lead?

We are potentially tracked wherever we use software. Whether we are surfing the internet or jogging with a smart watch on, we are aware of the fact that data about us and our behaviour are collected and processed for a variaty of purposes. Some of these are indeed intended to benefit us, for example when it comes to monitoring our health or when personalised services are supposed to make our lives more comfortable. Often, however, there are simply financial interests of third parties in the background: companies which make money from our data traces, criminal activities – or in the worst case surveillance measures of authoritarian governments. However: The full potential of increasingly elaborate tracking techniques unfolds only in the progressive networking and interconnectedness of our IT systems. This applies to the supposed benefits just as much as to the risks of misuse.

Matthias Hollick teaches and researches computer science at TU Darmstadt where he heads the Secure Mobile Networking department. In this episode of the ZEVEDI-Podcast “Digitalgespräch”, the expert explains which technologies are already being used today to collect and analyse data about us, which actors are behind those activities and what purposes they pursue. He discusses with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring the dynamics of the development of potential surveillance technologies, the tension between the benefits and risks of the tracking infrastructures that surround us, where and how regulations might make sense, and what perspectives this opens up for liberal, democratic societies.

Episode 16 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Matthias Hollick of Technische Universität Darmstadt, 25 January 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the website of Matthias Hollick’s department Secure Mobile Networks:
https://www.seemoo.tu-darmstadt.de/

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Counting with physics: quantum computers in reality

There are limits to the performance of even the most modern supercomputers, which science and technology will probably overcome with the help of quantum physics: With comparatively few quantum bits or qubits, it will then be possible to perform computing operations that the most powerful classical high-performance computers would not be able to cope with. This promises solutions for a number of practical problems in various fields of life and knowledge, likely releasing an enormous potential for development. The processes that will take place in these computers, i.e. how they will function, can only be described precisely in mathematical terms – quantum physics is not known for being particularly easy to perceive. All the more mysterious seems this new type of computing machine, which research groups all over the world are currently developing. In the race for success, international cooperation is just as important as aspiration to prestige and competitive pressure – and also the incentive provided by security concerns. Like any technological advance, quantum acceleration, in which the actual improvement achieved by quantum computers is expressed, is not free of risks for the digital society.

Prof. Dr. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch teaches and researches Theoretical Physics at Saarland University and is currently coordinating the development of a European quantum computer – the flagship project OpenSuperQ – at Forschungszentrum Jülich. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, the expert explains how the project came about and the goal it is pursuing, what distinguishes this novel technology and how a layperson can imagine computing with quantum systems. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses the tasks in which quantum computers promise great progress, how the practicality of quantum computing is developing at the interface between physics, computer science and engineering – and who could get access when and under what conditions.

Episode 15 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch of Saarland University and Forschungszentrum Jülich, 11 Januar 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the website of the project OpenSuperQ : https://opensuperq.eu/

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Communicating, progressing, enabling: How does a Digital Minister make politics?

For a long time, digitalisation was a process that progessed without systematic political control, releasing potential for drastic change in all areas of life. In recent years, however, a political awareness has emerged for the disruptions that have occurred. How effective digital politics can offer steering mechanisms for a digital transformation, fit to harness the potential of digitality for society while at the same time responsibly countering a wide variety of new risks – this itself is subject of political discourse. One strategy can be the introduction of dedicated digital departments or so-called “digital ministries”, which a few federal states have made first attempts on in recent years. Hence, digital politicians are emerging who are the first in their guild to level a completely new field.

Kristina Sinemus is the Hessian Minister for Digital Strategy and Innovation and one of the first dedicated ministers for digital matters in Germany. The professor of public affairs and former entrepreneur took over her newly created office at the end of 2019. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, Sinemus explains how she built up her department with its central tasks in terms of organisation, content and strategy, and what hurdles had to be overcome in the process. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, she discusses how priorities can be set in the complex field of digitisation, what role citizen dialogue plays and how political strategies regarding a state such as Hesse relate to European digital politics.

Episode 14 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Kristina Sinemus, Hessian Minister for Digital Strategy and Innovation, 14 December 2021
Further informationen:

Link to the Digital Hessen Strategy: https://www.digitalstrategie-hessen.de/dynasite.cfm?dsmid=513901

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Likes, ratings and smart assistants – risks of a digital “consumer democracy”

There is an obvious difference between a simple Like and a written-out explanation of a decision: the former is a mere preference that does not reveal any of its criteria, the latter is a justification for a judgement that one can comprehend and adopt or disagree with. Still, both emerge equally when people share their experience online to help others make consumption decisions. In addition, Likes and posted ratings  have a common competitor: the algorithmically generated, personalised recommendation. It is no longer oriented towards explicit human statements, but rather tracks user behaviour. In the extreme, machines automatically start the next suggested song or series without waiting for the user to actively decide. Here, users are no longer even expected to give a rating – the tracked consumer behaviour suffices.

Thus, there is a development from consumer discourse, in which justification is demanded and provided, to unfounded and hardly questionable expressions of affect, to an automated dynamic that no longer calls for reflection – critical consciousness moves further and further into the background and may eventually disappear altogether. Does this picture already apply to our habits today? How can such a shift be traced? And: Where is a society heading that leaves less and less opportunity for critical reflection in everyday life?

Prof. Jörn Lamla researches and teaches in the field of sociological theory at Universität Kassel and has been observing consumer platforms since they appeared on the World Wide Web in the 1990s. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he explains the changes that the practice of rating and advertising products has taken with the rise of Web 2.0, social media and algorithm-supported platforms, and how today’s forms of digital consumer society are shaking our self-image of the critical, sovereign individual. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses how consumer habits and different types of digital marketplaces affect democracy and self-determination, which interests are at play and what political challenges could arise from this.

Episode 13 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Jörn Lamla of Universität Kassel, 30 November 2021
Further informationen:

Link to Leopoldina‘s statement on digitalisation and democracy:
https://www.leopoldina.org/en/publications/detailview/publication/digitalisierung-und-demokratie-2021/

Link to Jörn Lamla’s expertise on critical evaluation skills as part of the JFF project Digitales Deutschland (in German):
https://digid.jff.de/kritische-bewertungskompetenzen-joern-lamla/

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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From coin to crypto token: money, value and currency in the age of digitality

The European Central Bank is considering options for a “Digital Euro”. By this, the ECB is reacting to a development that has taken place beyond institutional financial policy in recent years: privately owned systems enable the transaction of values via the internet and thus open up our previous notion of money and currency to new, digital concepts. The question of what significance we should attach to this dynamic and what reactions are appropriate is becoming increasingly urgent. Many companies as well as individuals are already integrating digital payment systems into their financial strategies, others have been paying little attention to this possibility. International corporations are creating in-house alternatives to established money – which government institutions such as the ECB are countering by trying to find their own models for the introduction of “digital money”. To all this there is much more than the mere use of the internet for financial transactions, to which we have long become accustomed anyway. What is the new thing that is emerging here and what are the implications – for economies and for each individual citizen?

Martin Diehl is an analyst at Deutsche Bundesbank and an expert on payment systems and macroeconomics. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the economist and philosopher brings order into the terminology we use in the field of currency, value and money and explains current developments around blockchain and digital financial markets. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Diehl discusses the revolutionary ideas behind the crypto token and why Bitcoin is not a currency, what requirements money must fulfil and the role that trust plays in this.

Episode 12 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Martin Diehl of Deutsche Bundesbank, 16 November 2021
Further informationen:

Link to the FAQ regarding the “Digital Euro” on the Website of Deutsche Bundesbank (in German): https://www.bundesbank.de/de/aufgaben/unbarer-zahlungsverkehr/digitaler-euro-haeufig-gestellte-fragen

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Smart urban development – and what municipal companies do for it

The sound of the word “Smart City” makes us think of sophisticated infrastructure and flawless networks, cutting-edge digital technology in every single corner – and also of a place elsewhere in the world or at least in the future, in any case far away. But our historically evolved cities and villages are presently becoming gradually digitalised and “smart” under our very eyes. “Digital Cities” show where this process could lead and how closely modernisation can be oriented to the needs of the population, local businesses and regional characteristics.

Klaus Michael Ahrend is a member of the board of HEAG Holding AG, a company that assumes central tasks of the municipal economy for the region of southern Hesse with its headquarters in Darmstadt. The professor of economics knows the requirements and goals in the development of digitality for cities and regions at close quarters and is actively shaping related projects himself. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he uses the example of the designated Digitalstadt Darmstadt to explain which conditions and values determine the digitisation of a city, what citizens actually benefit from and why the concepts of smart regions might be an even better idea. With the hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses how digitisation can be shaped regionally in a democratic process and what role a European perspective plays in this.

Episode 11 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Klaus-Michael Ahrend of HEAG Holding AG, 2. November 2021
Further informationen:

Link to the website of Digitalstadt Darmstadt: https://www.digitalstadt-darmstadt.de

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Genetic information in the digital age: the dispute over the Nagoya Protocol

Is digital information on gene sequences a natural resource – yes or no? This question is concerning the Nagoya-Protocol and currently being debated by the United Nations. The outcome of these negotiations will have consequences for research and development, as well as for global equity, because compensation may have to be paid to the countries of origin of the organisms whose genes are involved in the use of digital genetic information – usually poorer parts of the southern hemisphere. On the one hand, this agreement aims at strengthening the protection of biodiversity, and, on the other, counteracts the exploitation of the global South by the industrialised nations. However, once you start thinking about the concept of natural resources in a digital context, you quickly come up against contradictions and consequences unfavourable to all parties involved. This Gordian knot was already inherent in the respective concepts even before digitisation, but is now being tightened by it – a conflict that is difficult to resolve and which, in view of the rapidly advancing use and exploitation of digital genetic data, demands a quick and fair solution.

Anna Deplazes-Zemp is a philosopher and molecular biologist. She researches and teaches at the UZH in Zurich and is concerned with questions of bioethics and scientific ethics. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, she explains the concept of digital genetic resources, the background to the negotiations on the Nagoya Protocol and the major task facing those responsible. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, she illustrates the imbalances of the concept of a “digital natural resource” and discusses the urgent questions of justice that are affected by it and which considerations would have to be included in the development of a solution that actually achieves its goals: Protection and sustainable management of biodiversity and a fair balancing of global injustices.

Episode 10, of Digitalgespräch, feat. Anna Deplazes Zemp, Universität Zürich, 19 October 2021
Further informationen:

Link to text of the Convention on Biological Diversity: https://www.cbd.int/convention/text/

Link to the text of the Nagoya-Protocol: https://www.cbd.int/abs/text/

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Demand and reality: the state of data protection

When the European Court of Justice declared the Privacy Shield agreement invalid on 16 July 2020, the exchange of personal data between the EU and the USA had suddenly lost its legitimacy. Privacy experts had long seen this ruling coming, since the European right to informational self-determination is incompatible with the reality of US-American data processing practices. Nevertheless, this new legal situation has confronted those responsible with a gigantic task: they must find a way to guarantee that digital transformation is possible in all areas of society while ensuring the European standards for privacy and data protection. But at this point, Germany is far from able to organise central tasks such as education and administration digitally without falling back on services that transfer personal data to the USA.

Alexander Roßnagel teaches and researches at the University of Kassel and is now a data protection officer as his main profession: In March 2021, the scientist and data protection expert took over the office of the Hessian Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information. In this episode of “Digitalgespräch”, he talks about everyday work and the most urgent tasks in his office, explains possibilities and leeway for ensuring data protection and gives his perspective on upcoming challenges. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, he discusses the importance of data protection for a self-determined life and the balancing of fundamental rights and values that is guided by it.

Episode 9 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Alexander Roßnagel, Hessian Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, 5 October 2021
Further informationen:

To the website of the Hessian Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information:
https://datenschutz.hessen.de/

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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Predictive policing and its consequences: Data analysis in police work

Of all the digital tools available to the police in their work, hardly any have caused as much of a stir as “predictive policing”. For some years now, technologies for predictive policing have been used in different German states – with the Hessian police were among the first to use it. Since then, Since then,  sometimes unrealistic ideas about its potential have been circulating among both opponents and supporters of its implementation. Nevertheless, it is clear that the pressure of digitalisation has affected police work and will bring about further changes. It should be just as clear though, that people must be able to rely on their fundamental rights being respected when algorithms generate suspicions with the help of databases and models – especially since, from a scientific point of view, it is anything but certain that methods like predictive policing work at all.

As a sociologist, Simon Egbert has studied the effects of automated data analyses and taken a close look at predictive policing. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, he explains the technologies behind it, how they work and are being used, and how they differ from other digital policing methods – that might deserve at least as much media attention. In the ZEVEDI podcast, he talks with hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring about the hype and reality of predictive policing, possible consequences for the everyday work of police officers and the dangers for citizens’ rights.

Episode 8 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Simon Egbert of Universität Bielefeld, 21 September 2021
Further informationen:

Policing and Everyday Police Work” by Simon Egbert and Matthias Leese:
https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/oa-mono/10.4324/9780429328732/criminal-futures-simon-egbert-matthias-leese

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.

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DE-CIX and the architecture of the internet

The history of the internet as we know and use it today is also and especially a history of its commercialisation. In Germany, it is a household commodity, like water and electricity. Mobile Internet and WLAN surround us almost everywhere like the air we breathe – and we can easily buy our personal access from multiple providers. Nevertheless, the public internet is not regulated: the rules by which it functions have been negotiated since its beginnings in the 1990s by those who bring it to market. What were the circumstances under which these far-reaching decisions were made? Who was involved? What was important in the process and what potentials are emerging today?

Harald A. Summa is founder and CEO of eco – the Association of the Internet Industry and CEO of one of the most important internet nodes in the world, the DE-CIX in Frankfurt a. M. In his roles, he has contributed significantly to the current design and gigantic dimensions of the web and continues to contribute to the development of the internet of the future. In Digitalgespräch, Summa talks about the first years of commercial internet, describes the most important course settings and also explains technical relations. With the hosts of the ZEVEDI podcast – Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring – he discusses the significance of the unwritten laws of the self-regulated internet, how their interaction with its physical realisation also affects content and services, and gives an outlook on upcoming developments.

Episode 7 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Harald A. Summa of eco – Association of the Internet Industry, 9 September 2021


Further information:
Link to Harald A. Summa’s website:
https://harald-a-summa.de/

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.