European Data Protection Supervisor
Der Europäische Datenschutzbeauftragte



The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) regularly publishes TechDispatch reports that aim to explain emerging developments in technology. The TechDispatch reports are part of the wider EDPS activities on technology monitoring

Each TechDispatch provides factual descriptions of a new technology, preliminarily assesses possible impacts on privacy and the protection of personal data, as we understand them now, and provides links to further recommended reading. 

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TechDispatch #1/2020: Contact Tracing with Mobile Applications

In public health, contact tracing is the process to identify individuals who have been in contact with infected persons. Proximity tracing with smartphone applications and sensors could support contact tracing. It involves processing of sensitive personal data.
What is Contact Tracing?

During epidemics of infectious diseases, such as the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), it is important to lower the number of new infection cases and to stop it eventually. Therefore the infection chain of onward transmissions must be interrupted. When those persons known to be infected reveal their recent contacts, other infected persons may be identified, informed and e.g. isolated already early on, even before they become aware of their infection. The process to identify contacts of known cases is called contact tracing.
A person becomes a contact of a primary case by e.g. face-to-face contact within a short distance over some time span, physical contact or spending time indoors together–all within the incubation period of e.g. up to 2 weeks for the coronavirus disease.

To establish the risk exposure in contact tracing, information about the distance between the persons and the duration of contact are important. Close contacts with high-risk exposure may then become subject to different rules or treatments.


TechDispatch #3: Connected Cars

The modern car is a computer on four wheels. Today’s cars are constantly processing and transmitting data about themselves, their surroundings and the people in it – in most of the cases even without the knowledge of the driver. This data is used in navigation, to manage car systems like the engine or to deliver communication and infotainment services to passengers.

Increasingly today, the data generated by the car is shared over the internet with other vehicles, traffic infrastructure and private and public entities. These so-called connected cars belong to the evolving Internet of Things (IoT) - with manifold related risks attached. The growing amount of personal data generated by connected cars raises the interest of insurers, automakers, law enforcement authorities and other third parties.

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TechDispatch #2: Smart Meters in Smart Homes

To tackle climate change, the European Union has set itself a target to ensure that 80% of EU consumers are using smart meters by 2020. This should accelerate the move towards cleaner energy and reduce energy consumption. The European Commission issued a Recommendation on preparations for the roll-out of smart metering systems in 2012. Today, there are an increasing number of smart meters being used across the EU and integrated with other smart home appliances.

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TechDispatch #1: Smart Speakers and Virtual Assistants

Ever since Alan Turing published his paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence in 1950, computer scientists have tried to get machines to mimic human behaviour and make them as intelligent or as smart as human beings, by having them play imitation games.

Turing raised the question: Can machines think? He suggested that something “resembling thinking” could be achieved if we provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This is the main reason why we call modern machines with some imitation capacity smart devices.

Today, a new generation of speaking devices interact with us in human-like ways to execute simple tasks and answer questions, and not only in English. How is this possible?

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