[Air-L] Fully funded international PhD position in regulating computational platform infrastructures at UCL Laws

Veale, Michael m.veale at ucl.ac.uk
Tue May 18 04:42:30 PDT 2021

UCL Faculty of Laws is offering a fully funded 3-year Home/Overseas PhD studentship in technology policy and law, open to candidates from a wide variety of disciplines, funded by the Fondation Botnar.

  *   Topic: Regulating platform computational and sensing infrastructures, with an emphasis on the global dimension and regulating from the perspective of poorer countries.
  *   Supervised by Dr Michael Veale (Lecturer in Digital Rights and Regulation at UCL)
  *   Open to: Anyone with a background in law or technology policy, understood broadly.

Details and how to apply:

More details:
UCL Faculty of Laws is offering a fully funded 3-year Home/Overseas PhD studentship in Law, focussing on regulating platform infrastructures in the Global South. This is part of the ‘Real Time Epidemiology’ project (UCL investigator Dr Michael Veale, partners EPFL, ETH Zürich, TU Delft, 3db Technologies) funded by the Fondation Botnar.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred interest in using sensors, both on existing devices like smartphones, as well as bespoke devices, to support granular, rapid, public health interventions. The Real Time Epidemiology Project has experience of this, having created two protocols (‘DP-3T’ Bluetooth tracing and ‘CrowdNotifier’ QR-code-based COVID exposure risk alerts), versions of which have been widely deployed around the world during the pandemic. Sensor networks are also changing, with new technologies emerging that are more precise (such as Ultra Wide Band, used by Apple’s ‘AirTags’) or longer in range (such as LoRa/Amazon ‘Sidewalk’). At the same time, some desire to make use of data, including from such sensors, for various notions of public benefit, for example through ‘data trusts’, ‘data foundations’ or ‘data altruism’.

The societal, technical and legal considerations concerning who gets to use, alter, assemble and dismantle such platform sensing infrastructures are complex. Private companies, such as Apple and Google, control hardware, operating systems and software distribution networks (app stores), through a range of technical and legal means. Their vertical integration can mean that software struggles to make use of sensors in the vast majority of devices they manage without their blessing. Private standard-setting bodies, such as the IETF or the IEEE, have had important roles in shaping this area. Some jurisdictions have tried, or are currently experimenting with, approaches to governing infrastructures (e.g. the EU’s Digital Markets Act). Governments also desire to use these networks in very different ways: some have strong wariness about turning citizens into sensors, others see it as a way to surveil or even optimise their populations. Some have seen private governance of this area, particularly by US technology firms, as limiting abuses of power by governments. Others have seen the practical inability of states to control infrastructures built and maintained by these firms as impinging on varying notions of ‘digital sovereignty’. Either way, all these above activities of regulation and governance have potential extraterritorial and transnational implications, creating a challenging landscape for a coherent and balanced global regime.

Policy discussions however centre predominantly on a few countries in the Global North. This is problematic, as attempts to rebalance legitimate decision-making power around the use and management of such infrastructures can hardly be said to do so if that rebalancing is solely within rich countries.

If you have any queries regarding the vacancy, please contact Dr Michael Veale: m.veale at ucl.ac.uk

Full details in the PDF document linked to above. Deadline 18 June 2021. Start in September 2021.

Dr Michael Veale
Lecturer in Digital Rights and Regulation
Faculty of Laws, University College London

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