The Penn AlgoWatch Initiative provides intellectual and moral leadership on the challenges raised by the interactions between algorithms and society. An outgrowth of interdisciplinary dialogue across Penn’s campus over the last several years, the project aspires to produce scientific, legal, and regulatory solutions to the issues raised by algorithmic bias, privacy violations, and related behaviors.
The project is headed by Prof. Michael Kearns of Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and Prof. Ezekiel Dixon-Román of the School of Social Policy and Practice as well as CTIC’s founding director Prof. Christopher Yoo and is supported by machine learning expert Kristian Lum. They hope to establish and encourage best practices, critique methods of design, and educate the public about the social issues surrounding our algorithmic era.
The centerpiece of the initiative will be a public website featuring two broad categories of content and services: “auditing” of existing algorithms, services, and systems; and “tools” for best practices in algorithm and system design. The initiative has the potential to significantly impact machine learning, mainly in the monitoring of large-scale services for algorithmic discrimination, privacy, transparency, and other concerns.
A distinctive aspect of technology is its tendency to transcend national borders because of both standardization and the ease with which information can flow around the world. The U.S. and Chinese cases against Qualcomm and the EU cases against Google underscore the need for businesses around the world to better understand how antitrust laws and competition policy are likely to be applied. To address this need, CTIC initiated a multi-year research project to compare how key antitrust issues are handled in China, the EU, and the United States.
Phase one of the project focused on due process in antitrust enforcement. The team’s research output has had a significant impact, having influenced the work of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s Multilateral Framework on Procedures, the International Competition Network’s (ICN) Framework for Competition Agency Procedures, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Recommendation on Procedural Fairness. Phase two examines the antitrust issues posed by big data. The research team initiated its efforts at a kickoff conference at the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing.
“The response to the program has been overwhelming,” said Prof. Christopher Yoo, CTIC’s founding director. “It has attracted interest from enforcement authorities and companies in all three jurisdictions, all of which recognize the need for this type of comparative research.”
Prof. Yoo is joined in the project by Wharton’s Prof. Joseph Harrington. Chinese partners include Prof. Yong Huang of the University of International Business and Economics Law School and Prof. Guobin Cui of Tsinghua University. European expertise is provided by Prof. Thomas Fetzer, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, School of Law and Economics, at the University of Mannheim. The project is supported by Penn Global’s China Research Engagement Fund as well as corporate contributors.
CTIC has continued to lead 1 World Connected, an initiative to help more people around the world enjoy the benefits of Internet connectivity. As of now, roughly half of the world’s citizens are not online, and global adoption rates are slowing. 1 World Connected conducts empirical research into innovative initiatives to bring more people online.
Launched in 2016, 1 World Connected has produced impressive accomplishments. The project team has created a unique database of more than 1,000 connectivity initiatives across the globe; conducted more than 100 case studies covering different technologies and interventions in domains such as agriculture, education, financial inclusion, and health; and is conducting major research projects in Nepal, Rwanda, and Vanuatu. The empirical data the team has gathered provide key decisionmakers with a data-driven foundation for determining what really works. The project has also produced a remarkable series of research material, including publications, policy briefs, videos, and podcasts.
World Connected collaborates with numerous international organizations to promote Internet adoption. These include the UN Internet Governance Forum’s Dynamic Coalition on Innovative Approaches to Connecting the Unconnected, UN Secretary General High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation’s Global Connectivity Working Group, Research Coalition of EQUALS: Global Partnership to Bridge the Digital Gender Divide, and Education for the Most Marginalised post-COVID 19 (EMMpost- Covid-19) Working Group, and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Postdoctoral fellow Müge Haseki highlighted the importance of 1 World Connected’s involvement in these fora: “Development goals cannot be achieved without strong public-private partnerships and coalitions as it requires different expertise, knowledge and resources to identify innovative solutions. 1 World Connected brings a unique perspective that is data- driven.”
The project is continuing to expand. GSMA has awarded 1 World Connected a major grant to study the impact of mobile Internet connectivity on women’s socioeconomic well-being in Bangladesh and Ghana.
CTIC secured a $350,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for its initiative to provide a basis for evidence-based decision-making regarding the economics of digital services. The goal is to provide a better understanding of technology companies whose business models are predicated on access to user data. The resulting research should provide a stronger foundation for the proper scope of? antitrust enforcement and regulatory intervention. The grant was made as part of Knight Foundation’s $50 million initiative to support scholarly inquiry and novel approaches that will strengthen our democracy as the digital age progresses.
“Attitudes towards digital services have changed dramatically over the past few years,” noted Prof. Christopher Yoo, CTIC’s founding director “The project’s goal is to develop a better understanding of the market dynamics for online services and the business strategies that digital platforms are pursuing. We are grateful for the Knight Foundation’s support to help make this happen.”
Prof. Yoo and Rakesh Vohra, George A. Weiss and Lydia Bravo Weiss Professor of Economics and Engineering and Co-director of The Warren Center for Network & Data Sciences lead the project. It will explore two key areas. digital platforms’ greater reliance on algorithms and data and the economic implications of vertical integration and other emerging business models employed by tech companies.
To explore these issues, Profs. Yoo and Vohra will implement an interdisciplinary effort, leveraging Penn’s Law, Engineering, Wharton, and Annenberg schools and its Department of Economics. Grant funding will be provided to scholars both inside and outside of Penn to conduct theoretical and empirical studies on the issues raised by digital platforms. Research results will be shared through training and policy outreach programs as well as conferences, especially those geared toward government officials interested in learning more about the technical and economic underpinnings of modern digital services.
“We hope our efforts will help support an analytically sound assessment of how to regulate digital services,” said Prof. Yoo.
Prof. Christopher Yoo led a National Science Foundation-funded project to identify legal obstacles to the adoption of Internet routing security technologies and to propose strategies to overcome those obstacles. The project focused on the deployment of a promising framework for securing Internet routing known as the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) in North America. Their work provided insights into the role that law plays in the development and diffusion of innovative technology.
Prof. Yoo canvassed the field of network engineering to identify all potentially significant legal barriers to the adoption of the RPKI framework. The team interviewed practicing engineers and academics alike, learning that the set of perceived barriers to RPKI was broader than had originally been identified in public dialogue. This led the team to conduct an independent analysis of the legal problems at issue.
The team’s analysis provided network engineers with a new perspective on the problem of RPKI non-adoption. It helped identify which barriers were salient across the entire community, and it revealed that some of the perceived legal barriers to RPKI adoption were based on misunderstandings. Most significantly, the team developed a set of actionable recommendations for the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN), which operates the RPKI repository for North America, and for the larger networking community. These recommendations have become central to the ongoing dialogue between ARIN and its members regarding reform of the RPKI legal framework. ARIN has adopted two of the recommendations, and its community members continue to debate others.
In addition to practical impact, the project has yielded useful results at the level of academic theory. The research conducted under this grant sheds light on the dynamics of technology adoption in the Internet setting. The challenge in these situations is to encourage disparate actors to move towards the valuable state of widespread adoption.
This project revealed that nonprofits like ARIN and the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG) and early adopters each have important roles to play in promoting the deployment of new technologies. The fewer legal barriers there are, the easier this process will be. CTIC’s work has played a key role in shifting the adoption curve for RPKI by encouraging groups like ARIN and NANOG to address the legal issues head on.
Founded in 1923, the American Law Institute (ALI) is an independent organization that produces scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and improve the law. It currently has 2,900 elected members, including eminent lawyers, judges, and academics.
Profs. Anita Allen and Christopher Yoo both served as Advisers for the Project on Principles of the Law, Data Privacy. The ALI membership approved the final draft in May 2019. Prof. Yoo also serves on the Board of Advisers for the Project on Principles for a Data Economy that the ALI is conducting jointly with the European Law Institute (ELI). The ALI Council has approved the first three parts of the project and is preparing to submit them to the membership for approval. The remaining three parts have been drafted and await further consideration.
Prof. David Hoffman has been an elected ALI member since 2011. Prof. Tom Baker was elected to the ALI membership in 2000 and served as one of the Reporters for the Project on Restatement of the Law, Liability Insurance, which was completed in 2019.
In March 2019, Prof. Christopher Yoo completed his two-year term as a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC). Prof. Yoo was subsequently reappointed to a second two-year term from 2019 to 2021 by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
The BDAC’s mission is to advise and make recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed Internet access by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.
Prof. Yoo served on the working group charged with drafting a model state code and the Ad Hoc Committee on Rates and Fees. He also led the BDAC’s efforts to assess current deployment practices empirically and is currently serving on the working group studying how to increase broadband deployment and adoption in low-income communities. The working group is paying particular attention to insights drawn from responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“High-speed Internet access creates undeniable economic, educational, and health benefits for users,” said Prof. Yoo. “The FCC has already incorporated important elements of the BDAC’s recommendations into its official work. We hope that our ongoing work can help identify additional ways to provide expanded Internet access to citizens across the country.”
Prof. Christopher Yoo has been named an External Expert and Advisor for the UN Working Group on School Connectivity. The group will also serve as an advisory group for GIGA, a UNICEF and ITU-backed project centered on global school connectivity that aims to connect every school to the Internet by 2030.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made school connectivity more important than ever,” Prof. Yoo said. “1 World Connected’s case studies have provided real-world insights into the best ways to bring students online.”
Building on the research and scholarship of its members, the group focuses on connecting schools around the world and providing key advice and advocacy efforts with the goal of “ensuring that every young person has access to information, opportunity, and choice.”
According to UNICEF Director Henrietta Fore, over 360 million young people around the world lack access to the digital age because of poverty, geography, or other circumstances. Moreover, a 2019 Broadband Commission report supports the finding that a 10 percent increase in mobile broadband deployment caused a 0.8 percent increase in the GDP.
The group also provides guidance on the financing and development of the e-schools initiative and focuses on issues of technologies, business models, the link between quality teaching and inclusive learning, and improvement of the employability of students. It is composed of key players in various disciplines, including academia, the information and communications technology industry, intergovernmental organizations, and governmental policy and regulation.
The Administrative Conference of the U.S. (ACUS) has invited Prof. Christopher Yoo to serve as a consultant for its project recommending administrative procedures for handling protected materials in public rulemaking dockets.
The emergence of the Internet has vastly increased the public’s ability to participate in governmental processes. At the same time, it has heightened the risks of online disclosure of personally and commercially sensitive information. This means that agencies must strike a balance between the need to promote governmental transparency and the obligation to protect individual privacy.
This project is designed to provide insights into the best administrative practices for reconciling the tension between these two considerations. The primary analysis is embodied in a report authored by Prof. Yoo with the support of Kellen McCoy L’21. ACUS’s Committee on Rulemaking has drafted a recommendation based on this analysis that will be considered at the ACUS Plenary Session scheduled for December 2020.
On March 5, 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania appointed Prof. David Hoffman to serve as a Special Master to help oversee the agreement settling the litigation between the National Football League (NFL) and some of its retired players over concussion injuries. The litigation centers on the retired players’ claims that repetitive traumatic head injuries from their football careers have caused, or will likely cause, long-term neurological issues. The lawsuit contends that the NFL exhibited negligence in failing to warn players of these risks.
Prof. Hoffman’s duties as a special master include oversight of determinations whether individuals are properly members of the settlement class, monetary and derivative claimant awards, compensation and expenses for litigation-related administrators, benefit levels, and adjudication of motions related to settlement implementation. His appointment is in addition to the prior appointments of Penn Provost Wendell Pritchett and Penn Law Vice-Dean Jo-Ann Verrier.
The University of Pennsylvania is a member of the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN), a group of 36 college and university members committed to building the nascent field of public interest technology and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists. Founded in 2019, PIT-UN focuses on five major goals: support for interdisciplinary curricula; development of experiential learning opportunities; career support for jobs in public interest technology; infrastructure, support, and resources for faculty; and sharing of institutional data to assess efforts.
In partnership with Penn’s Provost’s Office, this endeavor is being led by CTIC’s founding director Prof. Christopher Yoo and Michael Delli Carpini, the Inaugural Faculty Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Paideia Program and the Oscar H. Dandy Professor of Communication & Democracy at the Annenberg School for Communication.
On April 17, 2021, student representatives from Penn Law and the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) competed in Georgetown Law’s Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational. The Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational is an international competition designed to help students showcase legal technologies and data analysis tools to help improve access to justice. This year was Penn’s first year at the competition.
Cynthia Dahl of Penn Law’s Detkin Intellectual Property and Technology Legal Clinic supervised two separate interdisciplinary teams. One team worked with Community Legal Services (CLS) to create PhilaForm, a “guided interview” to help users qualify for and apply to state tax reduction programs. The team designed a web-based application to empower low-income Philadelphia residents to apply to existing but underutilized city and state real estate tax abatement programs to lower their tax liability and avoid accruing interest, fees, and foreclosure in a rapidly gentrifying city. The students involved in PhilaForm included Zachary Furcolo L’21, Yinran Pan L’21, Maria Tartakovsky L’21, Vince Gubitosi SEAS ’20, Natalie Wiegand SEAS ’20, and Kevin Yin SEAS ’20.
A second team worked for Broad Street Ministry to create a “digital lockbox” to safeguard the important identification and health records of people facing housing insecurity.
The CLS team was selected to present PhilaForm at the conference and will continue to work with CLS in fall 2020 to further develop and test the tool. The digital lockbox team plans to launch as a company in the near future.
“We really enjoyed the cross-disciplinary nature of the project,” said the law students in a collective statement. “Working closely with Community Legal Services we were able to customize the application so that it met real needs in the legal community. Additionally, most of us have technical backgrounds ourselves, and this was a unique opportunity to be able to combine those with our legal education.”
Penn Law offers eight massive open online courses (MOOCs) on the Coursera platform that bring legal education to learners far beyond the traditional pool of JD, LLM, and ML candidates. Working alongside the Legal Education Programs team, Prof. Michael Knoll and Prof. Polk Wagner recruited many of Penn Law’s top standing, clinical, and adjunct faculty to produce innovative courses that afford non-attorneys the opportunity to obtain a practical legal education. These courses focus on intellectual property law and regulatory compliance, responding to a steep increase in demand for legal knowledge from professionals across industries.
Four of the eight classes are part of the Intellectual Property Law Specialization. Through these courses, students learn the differences among the various forms of intellectual property rights, including patents, copyrights, and trademarks, and their various applications to human innovations. Drawing from that knowledge, students work to develop a trademark strategy for a company, analyze a patent document, and address a copyright cease-and-desist request, for example. These hands-on projects give students the necessary framework to craft integrated intellectual property strategies tailored to an organization’s core business goals.
The courses in the Intellectual Property Law Specialization include Patent Law and Introduction to Intellectual Property taught by Prof. Wagner, Trademark Law taught by Prof. Cynthia Dahl, and Copyright Law.
In the News
The Center for Technology, Innovation and Competition and the Warren Center for Network and Data Sciences will fund grants to support research on the economics of digital services. This project is funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Christopher Yoo co-authors report on improving broadband connectivity in Latin America and the Caribbean
The full report: Strategies and Business Models for Improving Broadband Connectivity in Latin America and the Caribbean: Guidelines for the Planning, Investment, and Rollout of Broadband Networks
Anita Allen to deliver keynote: ‘Privacy’s Greatest Ethical Challenges: Online Equity and Civil Rights, AI and Health’
At the virtual Privacy + Security Forum on October 1, 2021
Christopher Yoo answers the question as a member of the Antitrust Brainstorming Board, a new project of Competition Policy International and CCA
Reported in Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports for the period covering 2016-20
Prof. David Abrams and students looked at the effect of COVID-19 and protests on America’s crime rate
in Penn Today