Tech Policy Logo

June, 2020

Currently on TAP

Scholars Address Tech Policy Issues Related to COVID-19


While TAP scholars continue to work across a broad spectrum of technology policy issues, in recent months, many of TAP’s privacy, computer science, and economic scholars have addressed some of the challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.


Contact Tracing


The development and use of smartphone apps to support contact-tracing efforts raise significant privacy and discrimination policy issues. Contact tracing is the process of finding and reaching out to the contacts of someone who tests positive for an infectious pathogen. Those contacts are then quarantined or monitored, and if any of them are also positive, the process is repeated with their contacts, and on and on, until the chain of transmission is halted.


University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo, coauthored “Contact-Tracing Apps Are Not a Solution to the COVID-19 Crisis” with Ashkan Soltani (independent privacy researcher and technologist) and Carl Bergstrom (University of Washington) to examine the feasibility of whether contact-tracing apps can be effective. The authors also delve into a smartphone app’s potential for privacy and discrimination violations. [“Ryan Calo: Contact-Tracing Applications Pose Significant Risks,” a TAP post listed below, summarizes this article.]


Professor Mary L. Gray, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research and Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, and colleagues Margaret Bourdeaux and Barbara Grosz (both with Harvard) express reservations surrounding the inequitable use of cell phones in “How Human-Centered Tech Can Beat COVID-19 Through Contact Tracing.” [“Mary Gray Discusses How Human-Centered Tech Can Beat COVID-19”, a TAP post listed below, provides key takeaways from this article.]


Privacy law professor Paul Schwartz, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, recently authored two articles that explore privacy aspects with COVID-19 tracking apps. In “Protecting Privacy on COVID-19 Surveillance Apps,” Professor Schwartz examines the privacy and civil liberties debates around the globe about the use and development of COVID-19 tracking apps, and he provides a compilation of best practices from European and U.S. data privacy protection organizations. And in “Illusions of Consent and COVID-19-Tracking Apps,” Professor Schwartz discusses two proposed federal bills for regulating contact tracing apps in order to protect the privacy of health information. [Both of these articles have been republished with permission and are listed below.]


Woodrow Hartzog, Professor of Law and Computer Science at Northeastern University, wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that delves into the surveillance aspects of the proposed tracing apps and discusses the potential privacy vulnerabilities to be weighed against the anticipated benefits from this technology. In “Coronavirus Tracing Apps Are Coming. Here’s How They Could Reshape Surveillance as We Know It” Professor Hartzog highlights three concerns to keep in mind about relying on technology to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis. [“Woodrow Hartzog Discusses How Contact-Tracing Apps Could Reshape Surveillance,” a TAP post listed below, summarizes this article.]


Working from Home


The COVID-19 pandemic has a growing number of states issuing workplace restrictions and stay-at-home orders. For many businesses, having their employees work from home is the only option to continue operations; and for many individuals who are able to work remotely, the COVID-19 restrictions have placed significant challenges on them as they strive to set up a home office, maintain professional networks, and move projects forward.


Five years ago, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom and his colleagues conducted a working-from-home experiment with Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. The findings included “a 13 percent increase in performance plus a 50 percent drop in employee-quit rates.” (See “Does Working from Home Work? Evidence from a Chinese Experiment” by Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, and Zhichun Jenny Ying.)


In “Productivity Pitfalls of Working from Home in the Age of COVID-19,” Professor Bloom discusses how the current global work-from-home movement differs from his research of companies that instituted remote work options for their employees. “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days,” says Bloom. “This will create a productivity disaster for firms.” [“Nicholas Bloom Addresses Working from Home Challenges During COVID-19,” a TAP post listed below, provides key takeaways from this article.]


Read the latest TAP blogs…


    Asia IP Program Online: Section 101 Comes to China – Is China Turning the Unpatentable into the Patentable?
    June 17, 2020 – Online Event
    Berkeley Center for Law and Technology
    For years, China has been steadily expanding the scope of patentable subject matter while the U.S. has been making it more difficult to obtain software-enabled patented inventions. Is it now easier to obtain these patents in China than the U.S.?


    Tough Issues and Hot Topics in CCPA Compliance
    June 18, 2020 – Online Event
    Berkeley Center for Law and Technology
    Digital media platforms face challenging issues in the wake of the newly enacted California Consumer Privacy Act and the recently-issued final Regulations. The panel will review compliance challenges.


    PrivacyCon 2020
    July 21, 2020 – This event will be webcast live.
    Federal Trade Commission
    This conference centers on the privacy of health data collected, stored, and transmitted by mobile apps.


    CCP 16th Annual Conference 2020: Vertical Restraints: Updating for the Digital Dimension
    July 8 – 10, 2020 – Online Event
    Centre for Competition Policy
    Vertical relationships and platforms have always been a complex area within competition policy. They can be anti-competitive but they can also have strong positive benefits, and authorities therefore need to strike a careful balance. The rapid growth of the digital economy, and of large online platforms, raises major challenges for this assessment.


    The Right to Repair Under Siege?
    August 28, 2020
    UC Berkeley School of Law
    With today’s software-enabled products, including cars and toasters, we can no longer take for granted the right to repair them ourselves or to take them to a repair shop of our choosing. In response to legal and technological restrictions, a growing movement advocating a right to repair has emerged, despite pushback from some quarters.