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11/02/2020 | Pressemitteilung

Technology in the area of tension between support or monitoring

Computer scientists and legal scholars at the University of Kassel are conducting research in the interdisciplinary DFG project "NORA" on data protection-compliant recognition and prediction of contexts of mobile collaborative applications.

Image: Paavo Blafield.

How about your cell phone automatically detecting if you are concentrating and don't want to be disturbed? Sounds like a good idea, don't you think? But what if the cell phone accesses your movement data for this purpose and also the interactions with the cell phones of other users? That suddenly sounds too much like surveillance?

The new interdisciplinary research project NORA, which started at the University of Kassel at the beginning of October, is located in precisely this area of tension. "If IT applications can recognize a user's context, such as where he or she is, what he or she is working on, or whether he or she is currently communicating, they can support him or her with necessary or helpful services and functions appropriate to the situation at hand," says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus David, who heads the Department of Communications Technology (ComTec) at the University of Kassel and is one of NORA's two project leaders.

The second project leader is Prof. Dr. Alexander Roßnagel, Professor of Public Law at the University of Kassel. He assesses the new applications primarily in terms of data protection law issues. "Deficits often arise where aggregated information is processed and linked to identify commonalities, similar behaviors or activities of individuals," Prof. Roßnagel describes. In the project, he will primarily contribute his expertise with regard to user data control and data protection-compliant design.

"The goal of the NORA project is to address these risks and to develop a practicable method with which collaborative context-sensitive applications and machine learning algorithms can be designed according to normative requirements of data protection law and computer science. This is not to be done retrospectively, but already during the design of application systems," explains Prof. David.

The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), is scheduled to run for two years and is being carried out at the Scientific Center for Information Technology Design (ITeG).

Specifically, since October 1, 2020, requirements and criteria from legal science and computer science have been elaborated, interdisciplinarily combined in a balancing manner, and unified into design proposals at the implementation level(privacy-by-design). In doing so, the application of the method for the concretization of normative requirements (KONA) ensures that both norms and criteria of law (including purpose limitation, data economy, transparency) and normative requirements of informatics (including high detection accuracies, long runtimes for mobile devices) are observed.

One focus of the NORA project is on the digital workplace as a specific application field for collaborative context-sensitive mobile applications. Thus, the developed method is also evaluated exemplarily on two test scenarios for the detection and prediction of contexts that take place in the digital workplace. In the first scenario, communication events are context-sensitively controlled to minimize interruptions during concentrated work and thus counteract negative (health) effects (e.g., stress). The application processes contextual information from other users (including locations, applications, relationships) to improve detection and prediction of interruptible times. In the second scenario, emotions of individuals are detected based on physiological signals (including skin temperature, blood volume pulse, electrodermal activity). To improve emotion and stress recognition over physical inputs, physiological data is processed collaboratively for commonality detection.