Tech and COVID-19 Grant

February 5, 2021

We are very excited to announce our Tech and COVID grant. Over the next six to twelve months, Algorithm Watch, the Ada Lovelace Institute, the Balkan Investigate Reporting Network (BIRN), the Global Data Justice project at Tilburg University, the Civil Liberties Union for Europe, and Superrr Lab will conduct research that monitors, documents and critically analyses the role that data, automated decision-making, and technology more broadly plays in Europe’s ongoing tech response to the pandemic.

Almost a year into the pandemic, it has become evident that the diffusion of technology and norms that arise as a result of our collective societal response will have implications for generations to come, not just for European societies at large, but also for the civil society partners we aim to work with. Many of the ethical and human rights challenges we have identified in AI are also potential risks in the global (tech) response to COVID-19.

With our tech and Covid grants, we want to play our part in helping to make sure that there is enough research and evidence about the role that data, automated decision-making, and technology more broadly continues to play in Europe’s tech response to the pandemic. Learn more about our rationale behind this funding stream here.


Project: Monitoring and analysing automated decision-making systems used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic

AlgorithmWatch is a Berlin-based non-profit research and advocacy organization committed to evaluating and shedding light on consequential algorithmic decision-making processes. The project will map and document how automated decision-making (ADM) and AI systems are piloted and deployed in Europe as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on deployments by public authorities.

AlgorithmWatch will work with researchers that currently spans 16 European countries.The project builds on a joint project with Bertelsmann Foundation, the ‘ADM systems in the COVID-19 pandemic: a European perspective’ report, which was published in August 2020. Results will be collected and analysed in an accessible platform, in formats conducive to understanding the complex environment in which systems are deployed.

Amount awarded: 44,825 EUR | January 2021 – December 2021

Ada Lovelace Institute

Project: Public health identities and vaccine certification: ethical, technical, legal and societal considerations

The Ada Lovelace Institute is an independent research institute and deliberative body based in London, with a mission to ensure data and AI work for people and society. Since April 2020, the Ada Lovelace Institute has convened a rich conversation about the ethical, technical, legal and societal considerations involved in the deployment of technology and data-driven systems as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response.

With the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, companies and governments are beginning to develop technical and non-technical vaccine certification systems. The Ada Lovelace international monitor on public health identity systems is an up-to-date analysis of the current state of proposed or actual roll out of vaccine and immunity certification systems, including across Europe.

With the help of a project grant by the European AI Fund, the Ada Lovelace Institute will advocate on the two main risks of deploying vaccine certification: that private health data will be circulated to multiple actors with unforeseen or harmful consequences to individuals (insurance, employability), and that segregating or limiting right and freedoms on the basis of health status has unforeseen or harmful consequences to society – exacerbating inequality and shifting risk, compounding the already disproportionate effect of COVID on deprived communities.

Through a Europe-wide open call for evidence, Ada will gather evidence about the risks, concerns, and opportunities of vaccine certification, and in understanding public attitudes to the use of vaccine/immunity certificates, convene a closed meeting of experts to develop clearly articulated use cases on vaccine certification, and produce an output synthesising the evidence gathered.

Amount awarded: 45,000 EUR | December 2020 – April 2021

Balkan Investigate Reporting Network (BIRN)

Project: Reporting and monitoring digital rights in South-eastern and Central Europe

BIRN is a non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting freedom of speech, human rights and democratic values in Southeast and Central Europe. As a pioneer in opening a regional debate on the issues related to digital rights violations and widely spread use of advanced technology, BIRN monitors, reports and issues policy briefs on key trends mapped in the region.

This project builds on and expands the scale of reporting and monitoring of digital rights violations that BIRN has conducted during the first months of the pandemic. Through its  “Digital Rights in the Time of COVID-19”, BIRN was the only organisation that kept track and extensively reported about digital rights violations and the use of technology amid the pandemic in the region.

With a grant from the European AI Fund, BIRN will provide grants, mentoring and networking to ten journalists to report on digital rights and the use of emerging technologies in the time of COVID-19. BIRN will also continue to monitor digital dights violations, and create a new special focus page on its flagship Balkan Insight website in order to track and map the use of technology and existing digital solutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania and Serbia.

Amount awarded: 44,994.85 EUR | January 2021 – December 2021

Global Data Justice project, Tilburg University

Project: Sphere transitions and transgressions during COVID-19: Challenging the tech sector’s power grab in Europe

The Global Data Justice team is a research group at the Department of Law, Technology, Markets and Society at Tilburg University. This project explores technology-led and market-driven sphere transitions across Europe, based on both desk research and feedback from local organisations in a group of countries.

Europe is undergoing extensive political, social and economic changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of this upheaval is being driven by technological interventions made possible by the offerings of a multitude of digital tech and data analytics firms and can be observed all around us in the form of ‘sector creep’. For instance, vendors specialising in security, surveillance and identity ‘solutions’ marketed for airports and other transportation sites have pivoted to find new applications for their offerings in other spheres following a massive decline in travel during the lockdown.

There is a need for a more comprehensive account of the various sphere transgressions being made possible by European countries’ pandemic responses and an analysis of the implications of these transgressions for rights and regulatory processes. This project will use empirical research across nine European countries, namely the UK, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Italy.

Amount awarded: 45,000 EUR | January 2021 – December 2021

Civil Liberties Union for Europe

Project: contact tracing in the EU: Lessons to be learned for the future use of technology in fighting societal challenges

The Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) is a non-governmental organisation promoting the civil liberties of everyone in the European Union (EU).

Liberties plans to conduct a comprehensive research on centralized and decentralized contact tracing apps in Europe. This project is based on ongoing litigation around contact tracing and quarantine enforcing apps, which is supported by the Digital Freedom Fund (DFF). With the help of the European AI Fund grant, Liberties and partner organisations will conduct research that reviews national debates and rollouts of contact tracing apps. Liberties also aims to develop a legal database on pandemic technology.

Amount awarded: 43,110 EUR | January 2021 – December 2021

Superrr Lab

Project: COVID-19 Digital Infrastructure Playbook Application

Superrr is a feminist lab and a community. Their COVID-19 Digital Infrastructure Playbook project will examine the development and deployment of digital public infrastructure in the fight against COVID-19, with special focus on the role of digital civil society organizations.

COVID19 has accelerated the digital transformation of European societies at an unprecedented speed. As a result, many aspects of civic life have shifted onto privately owned platforms. This digital shift has led to an erosion of public spaces and risks further entrenching market concentration.

There are best practices of civil society organizations and (local) governments that have made privacy preserving and open-source choices when expanding into the digital sphere at the onset of the pandemic. These choices made them more resilient, less independent from proprietary service providers, and preserved public spaces when going digital. These success stories, however, are not widely known, analysed and copied.

The playbook aims to help civil society organisations and governments to navigate the ongoing digital transformation with foresight and awareness of the risks and opportunities of digital technology. The insights enable them to react to Europe’s tech response to the pandemic with public interest in mind and create digital structures and workflows that are resilient in times of crisis.

Amount awarded: 38,800 EUR | January 2021 – December 2021