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VIRT-EU Report Summary

Project ID: 732027
Funded under: H2020-EU.2.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VIRT-EU (Values and ethics in Innovation for Responsible Technology in EUrope)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-06-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The VIRT-EU consortium researches the responsible development of new connective devices and networked services in the emerging digital culture of Europe. Through a collaboration of social science, humanities and ICT research our interdisciplinary approaches provide new knowledge of and methods for how responsible innovation and technological development should be mutually fostered.

The social challenges the VIRT-EU consortium addresses are visible on a daily basis since our research on values and ethics in IoT design and development is taking place in a changing policy and cultural landscape. The recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, came into effect 25th May 2018), reflects mounting public concerns around data practices, and national news stories run weekly raising alarm about data practices and data ethics.

VIRT-EU asks what these rising ethical concerns mean for new generations of IoT designers and innovators, whose connected devices and services are poised to provide significant value to end users of all kinds but also generate vast amounts of potentially valuable data while posing extensive concerns for privacy and surveillance.
The VIRT-EU project approach is based on four overall objectives:
• Empirically identify how local culture and network society influence the understanding and movement of particular social values among technology developers
• Develop a framework for impact assessment that considers privacy, ethical and social impacts
• Co-design self-assessment tool prototypes with technology developers
• Test implementation of these prototypes and processes within the European data protection landscape.
Completing these objectives will bring us closer to our project goal of building tools that support collective and social resilience in an age of individual subjectivity, linking scholarship and advocacy on data protection to quantitative and ethnographic observations of designer and developer ethics in practice.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The main results of the VIRT-EU project so far are drawn from across the subprojects, demonstrating the interlinked nature of the tasks.

Domain Analysis has extended existing maps of IoT developer communities, engaging in person and online with the relevant actors central to these communities, and identifying online resources where these communities congregate. Initial social configurations have been identified, and an initial data corpus has been developed, which will act as a baseline from which to develop the project. The data corpus is an original achievement involving the definition and development of methods and procedures for a flexible model of a multiplex network, and the creation of data collection tools for mixed method data analysis.

Legal and Policy Analysis has been conducted using extensive data sources including data protection laws, judicial decisions, guidelines, charters of values, best practices, standards, case law and legal theory. The analysis combines a theoretical approach aimed at extracting moral and social values from legal instruments and draws on empirical evidence to provide a novel foundation from which to get an overview of the different guidelines, standards and regulations pertaining to IoT of relevance to designers and developers in Europe.

Empirical Investigation of IoT Communities of Practice has taken place both online and in seven European countries, with visits to London, Geneva, Lyon, Turin, Copenhagen, Bled, Malmö, Berlin, and Barcelona. This data was used to select two sites for in-depth fieldwork: London and Amsterdam. As a result, key ethical issues have been mapped through in-person engagement with nearly a dozen field sites across Europe. In addition, the project has produced an analysis of IoT and responsible technology manifestos, statements and calls to action being produced by IoT developers in the European space.

Co-Design Workshops Initial co-design workshops were conducted in field-sites where we had already established networks. The purpose of the four co-design workshops is to engage with potential users of such tools from the outset of design processes. However, the workshop design also took into account tools that currently exist, which were first researched through an extensive survey. The data from our co-design workshops lays the groundwork for the next stage of the project, which is prototyping. Attendees included IoT developers, designers, and CEOs, with whom the VIRT-EU team were able to work closely to explore IoT device design from its materials outward to the more systemic relations in which devices are embedded. As a result, the project is well positioned to include insights from practitioners regarding awareness levels and assumptions.

Dissemination has been an important component for ensuring that the ongoing research being conducted is in dialogue with our practitioner audiences and stakeholders. We have upgraded the Virt-EU website and extended its links to MEDIUM and LinkedIn since these platforms are where numerous IoT developers and designers congregate. The establishment of a healthy dissemination ecosystem is a foundational achievement for the project as we move into the next phase of research.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

VIRT-EU work moves beyond the state of the art in three ways.

First, through our domain analysis, the project has developed a novel multiplex network data model for the IoT ecosystem under study. This allows for the integration of data from different sources, and for their joint analysis.

Second, we have leveraged our interdisciplinary partners to develop collaborative custom software and interfaces which enable us to combine qualitative and quantitative insights. This is a novel way of integrating modes of analysis to map where conversations about ethics are happening in relation to the Internet of Things.

Third, through the considerable deskwork overview of existing ethics tools, and a comprehensive legal analysis of values present in case law, we are advancing beyond existing data protection impact assessment mechanisms, which are limited in their ability to truly address the new challenges of intensive data collection practices that form the backbone of most IoT innovation efforts. A particular absence in existing mechanisms is their attention to the ethical and social impacts of both individual and collective dimensions of data collection and use.

Social implications of the project so far:
The VIRT-EU Privacy, Ethical and Social Impact Assessment (PESIA) directly addresses the societal challenge of intensified connectivity at the centre of its inquiry. VIRT-EU enables a qualitative and quantitative approach to come together to produce a much-needed overview of activity across Europe as regards questions of attempts to govern and prompt ethical discussion around ethics in IoT technologies.

We have been actively stimulating dialogue and collaboration around questions of ethics in IoT, and the expected impacts of VIRT-EU are highly promising. Since the launch of GDPR in Europe, and questions of data collection rising to the foreground, the project’s relevance is well understood. While IoT remains a space of considerable investment and development, the ethical questions associated with rapid growth and marketisation within this field are becoming commonplace. Demand for the kinds of insight being produced by the VIRT-EU project, particularly the design intervention and PESIA tool, is evident.

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