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I'm leaving AISEC

I don’t like to write a post like this but I really feel that this one is necessary. After not even half a year I’m going to leave the Fraunhofer AISEC at the end of May. In this post I want to explain why.

This is not a post about contact tracing!

During the week of April 13 the controversy around PEPP-PT started to heat up. Articles from coindesk and other media such as Golem (German), started to pop up and I started to get a little concerned knowing that AISEC is part of the PEPP-PT organization. This quickly changed from being a sensible thing done by some people in the organization that employs me to something pretty sketchy that I definitely wanted to learn more about. Note that I haven’t been involved in any of the contact tracing approaches at AISEC or anywhere else.

There were three separate points that concerned me.

  1. Everything I have seen pointed to an approach to contact tracing that has huge potential to being abused. An approach that needs careful consideration and maybe shouldn’t be used in the first place. But without knowing any details I could hardly tell if this was really the case.
  2. The way PEPP-PT and AISEC communicated not only with the public but, as it appeared, also with other members of the consortium and employees, didn’t seem compatible with my understanding of responsible science, which requires an open discussion.
  3. This situation started to shed a bad light on everyone working for AISEC who’s taking privacy and open communication on such an important topic seriously.

In order to be able to judge the situation a little better and potentially help the necessary discussion around privacy in contact tracing apps I decided to reply to the only e-mail I had on the topic. This was before anything was published by PEPP-PT or AISEC. On April 1st when PEPP-PT was launched the AISEC director Claudia Eckert sent out an e-mail informing everyone that AISEC was part of PEPP-PT (press release from AISEC on that day in German). I noted that the optics were pretty bad and other institutions such as ETH Z├╝rich left PEPP-PT. In particular, I wanted to know

  1. in which way AISEC is involved in PEPP-PT and how the future collaboration is supposed to look like;
  2. how the institute wants to ensure that the situation doesn’t deteriorate any further (prevent further loss in credibility);
  3. when specifications, security models, and code would be published.

I didn’t want to get involved in any (public) discussion before knowing what’s going on. Asking internally, the person who should know, seemed like the obvious way to go.

The response was a little disappointing.

I won’t disclose any content of internal e-mails. But the last sentence said that I’m of course free to hand in my notice and leave AISEC at any time.

So that’s what I’m doing. I leave. This is not an organization I want to work for. Neither does the behavior of AISEC as part of PEPP-PT reflect my understanding of research, science, and social responsibility, nor does the response of the AISEC leadership demonstrate an environment in which I want to work.

(While I got a half-hearted explanation relayed a week later that tried to explain the e-mail with stress and the influx of many hostile e-mails, I believe that it is a symptom of a disrespectful culture within the organization. Actually, I haven’t heard from Claudia Eckert since that e-mail.)

So if you are interested in hiring me, send me an e-mail (mail@ this domain).

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