EWADA response to CMA consultation

Oxford's response to CMA consultation

by: Jun Zhao

14 Feb 2022

Researchers from Oxford Human Centred Computing Research Group (of which EWADA is part of) provided a response to the public consultation on mobile ecosystems by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Mobile ecosystems serve as an important part of our everyday lives, mediating social, political and market interactions. The ever increasing importance and ubiquity of mobile devices puts great power into the hands of those companies that make the key design decisions affecting mobile ecosystems. Decisions that might sometimes go against the interests of consumers. This is why we welcome the opportunity to respond to the ongoing investigation of the CMA into mobile ecosystems. Oxford HCC/EWADA researchers have been studying the data flows and power relations in the mobile ecosystem for many years, and thus welcome the opportunity to respond to the ongoing investigation of the CMA into mobile ecosystems.

The major themes of our response cover the following topics:

  • Ensure that app developers are not (implicitly or explicitly) nudged into violating basic provisions of UK data protection law, particularly the need to seek consent before engaging in third-party tracking. This could include standards for regulatory conformance (e.g. clarifying the responsibility of those companies developing tracking technologies, and requiring them to provide simple and compliant implementation guidance to app developers), and should ultimately aim to build a mobile ecosystem that facilitates compliance by default (see Section 1.1.1).
  • Empower researchers to conduct app research, by enabling ways in which researchers can more easily analyse encrypted iOS apps, download apps at scale, and analyse encrypted network traffic of apps on Android (see Sections 1.2.1–1.2.2).
  • Enable researchers to analyse concerns around underlying technologies of the mobile ecosystem, including the use of data relating to individuals and other advertising companies in Apple’s SKAdNetwork (see Section 1.4.3). Lower barriers to entry and innovation. Encourage the use of cross-platform technologies in app development (such as open web technologies), ensure that Windows and Linux users can develop apps for iOS (currently only macOS users), and lower the barrier to entry into the App Store (currently an annual 99 USD fee applies) (see Section 2.1).
  • Ensure that gatekeepers do not self-preference, particularly with regards to ad attribution or in the definition of tracking in the Apple ecosystem, and the distribution of adblocking technologies on Android and in Google Chrome (see Sections 1.4.2–1.4.3 and 2.1). Scrutinise Google’s current ban of in-app tracking blockers (see Section 2.1), including Disconnect.me, to give consumers more choice over how apps use their data and to tackle widespread infringements of data protection law (particularly the need to seek user consent prior to tracking, as well as proportionality, data minimisation and purpose limitation) within apps.
  • Consider requiring smartphone OS’s and app store operators to enable third-party mobile app extension functionality to spur innovation in mobile apps and reduce harms within them, similar to the approach taken with extensions in desktop browsers and mobile Safari starting with iOS 15, while ensuring safety of consumers using such extensions through the existing app store review processes (see Section 2.2).
  • Ensure that the review of apps on the app stores and the policies underlying this process are fair and transparent, for example through regular mandatory disclosures about this enforcement (including with regards to privacy and data protection). Such disclosures would be a minimally invasive but realistic intervention, and have been suggested by a variety of researchers from different backgrounds. See Section 3.1 for more details.
  • Consider separating key functions within the governance of mobile ecosystems to reduce conflicts of interests, such as privacy management to avoid self-preferencing as regards data collection and protect consumers against excesses and monopolisation of such data collection, and promoting more research into this area (see Section 3.2).

Read our full responses here

EWADA are supporting Leys-Oxford App Club

EWADA researchers are involved in the app club to support Leys CDI young people

by: Jun Zhao

31 Jan 2022

The Leys-Oxford App Club supports young people from the Leys Community Development Initiative who are passionate about learning new mobile app development skills and broadening their experiences and knowledge. It is part of Oxford University’s SCIENCE TOGETHER initiative, which is a brand new, grass-roots programme that harnesses the power of community-led collaborative research projects, bringing together Oxford scientists and people who live and work in Oxfordshire, to address major issues and questions impacting local people’s lives. In the case of App Club, it brings Oxford University computer scientists to the youth centre for closer knowledge sharing and co-creation opportunities.

The mission of the club is to transfer step-by-step app development skills and knowledge to club participants over a six-week period. The objectives are for the young people to learn about the life cycle of app development, understand the diverse skills involved in the app development, and develop team collaboration skills.

Through initial explorations, we have designed a 6-week app club programme, with a clear objective of producing an app prototype that can help young people to digitise the process of signing-in an event at the centre so that they can avoid the existing paper-based process and the centre can keep a digital record of the attendance. The young people are passionate about the potential of the app for simplifying their current experiences with the centre and helping with the promotion of the centre.

The outcome app ‘CDI app’ will be further tested with young people visiting the centre in the summer and jointly with the new Leys CDI website. We are very excited about this new initiative and a new form of ‘Science Together’.

EWADA response to DCMS consultation

Oxford's response to DCMS consultation

by: Jun Zhao

19 Nov 2021

Researchers from Oxford Human Centred Computing Research Group (of which EWADA is part of) and the Responsible Technology Institute provided a joint response to the public consultation on reforms to the UK’s data protection regime by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

The goal of the consultation is to create an ambitious, pro-growth and innovation-friendly data protection regime in the UK that underpins the trustworthy use of data. UK data protection law is currently modelled on EU requirements, particularly the GDPR from 2016 and the 2009 ePrivacy Directive. Following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, the government sees a wealth of new opportunities in the reform of the current legal requirements around the protection of personal data.

Overall, as a research group, we welcome the initiative of the UK government to help researchers in handling personal data, and to spur innovation within the UK. At the same time, we are concerned about potentially harmful consequences for individuals residing within the UK, as a result of a potential weakening of UK data protection standards and rights. Our response highlighted our thoughts around the core issues of data protection and privacy, responsible research, and balancing support for organisations as well as individuals. The major themes of our response cover the following topics:

  • Data intermediaries and institutions: Lack of clarity regarding data intermediaries, institutions, and practices put in place to safeguard individuals and support technological growth.
  • AI and responsible innovation: The opportunities for AI innovation in the UK depend on a robust regulatory regime that encourages highly context-specific risk management. This will be best promoted through maintaining existing measures like Data Protection Impact Assessments, Data Protection Officers, record keeping, and prior consultation, amongst others.
  • Erosion of trust in online tracking: Excessive box-ticking in the form of consent banners is not a necessary feature of existing data protection and privacy law, but rather a symptom of non-compliance with it.
  • Removal of the balancing test: The removal of the balancing test for pre-approved legitimate interest purposes will create disproportionate risks for UK citizens, and a false sense of certainty for controllers.

In our response, we also provided recommendations and suggestions on these themes and statements, intended to help build a sustainable future of AI and data protection within the UK that not only promotes innovation but also advocates for and protects individuals.

Read our full responses here

Welcome Research Visit from Prof Ruben Verborgh

We hosted first research visit from Prof Ruben Verborgh from Ghent University

by: Jun Zhao

17 Nov 2021

On 17-18 November 2021, the Oxford EWADA team welcomed the visit from Professor Ruben Verborgh from Ghent University, who is a world-leading expert in decentralized Web technologies.

The initial introduction meeting was well attended by the core EWADA CS team as well as many graduate and undergraduate students from the Oxford HCC group.

We discussed the latest development of the Solid Community Server led by the Ghent iMind research centre, Inrupt’s strategy and EWADA’s progress so far. The research visit has led to a productive identification of the common roadmaps between the Oxford and Ghent teams and a set of agreed forthcoming developments, which will undoubtedly strengthen our knowledge exchange and the delivery of the EWADA vision in a broader and impactful way.

Protecting People From States

Cyber governance must have human rights, freedom at its core

by: Jun Zhao

23 Sep 2021

On 23 September 2021, Tim Berners-Lee writes about the importance of protecting people from states as part of the action plan for Secure Our Digital Future.

Joined by Madeleine Albright, Tim Berners-Lee, Brad Smith and other leader thinkers, Secure our Digital Future aims to create an international framework for Peace, Security And Cooperation in the Cyber World.

In his latest post, Tim emphasises the importance of preserving an open, global internet so that we can spark innovation and help us collectively tackle the challenges we face, and for this, we need to build globally accepted norms to shape the digital future we want.

Read more

Research Associate on Ethical Web and Data Architectures

Research Associate on Ethical Web and Data Architectures

by: Jun Zhao

12 Aug 2021

We are excited to announce a 2-year (with the possibility of an extension for 1 more year) Research Associate position at the University of Oxford, under the supervision of Professors Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Sir Tim Berners-Lee. The Research Associate will be part of the newly funded multi-million-pound research project – Ethical Web and Data Architectures in the Age of AI - supported by the Oxford Martin School. The successful candidate will be located in the Department of Computer Science and be a member of the Human Centred Computing Theme.

The post holder will be responsible for elements of the design, development and deployment of new forms of technical infrastructure and cutting-edge privacy-preserving methods consistent with the aim of the EWADA project. They will work collaboratively with the PIs and other members of the research team on the project, as well as independently leading and developing their own body of research in line with the project’s aims. The post holder will be a member of the Human Centred Computing theme within the Department of Computer Science. The research group carries out world leading research relating to Human Computer Interaction, Human Centred AI, responsible innovation, and ethical data infrastructures. More information on Human Centred Computing can be found here.

The successful candidate will also be part of the EWADA research programme, which brings together researchers from Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, Faculties of Law and Philosophy, the Oxford Internet Institute, and the Blavatnik School of Government.

Whilst the role is a grade 8 position, we would be willing to consider candidates with potential but less experience who are seeking a development opportunity, for which an initial appointment would be at grade 7 (£32,817 - £40,322 p.a.) with the responsibilities adjusted accordingly (for Grade 7, you would be expected to hold a doctoral degree in Computer Science OR be close to completion). This would be discussed with applicants at interview/appointment where appropriate.

This post is a full time, fixed term contract for 2 years, with the possibility of an extension for 1 more year. All applicants must complete an application form and submit a CV and supporting statement.

The closing date for applications is at 12 noon on 1 October 2021. Interviews are expected to be held in early October.

We are a Stonewall Top 100 Employer, Living Wage and Mindful Employer, holding an Athena Swan Bronze Award, HR excellence in Research and Race Equality Charter Bronze Award.

Our staff and students come from all over the world and we proudly promote a friendly and inclusive culture. Diversity is positively encouraged, through diversity groups and champions, for example Women in CS, as well as a number of family-friendly policies, such as the right to apply for flexible working and support for staff returning from periods of extended absence, for example shared parental leave.

Demonstrating a commitment to provide equality of opportunity. We would particularly welcome applications from women and black and minority ethnic applicants who are currently under-represented within the Computer Science Department. All applicants will be judged on merit, according to the selection criteria.

For further details and to apply please visit here.

EWADA/OMS Visiting Fellowship

OMS Visiting Fellowship

by: Jun Zhao

28 Jul 2021

We are very excited to welcome Prof. Ruben Verborgh from University of Ghent to join the EWADA team as an Oxford Martin School Visiting Scholar.

Professor Verborgh has a distinguished track record in Web technology research and its applied impact, and his visits to EWADA will be extraordinarily valuable to the ambitions of the EWADA project.

Ruben is a professor of Decentralized Web technology at Ghent University and a research affiliate at the Decentralized Information Group of CSAIL at MIT. He is a renowned expert in web decentralisation technologies and an influential advocate for the reformation of current web architectures. He has been one of the pioneers in the development of the vision of web decentralisation since early 2015. He has been pivotal to the development of the Social Linked Data (Solid) ecosystem, led by Professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Solid is a unique standards-based approach that pioneers the theoretical and practical realisation of web decentralisation to empower people to take back control of their data and regain control and autonomy of their data assets.

Ruben’s involvement in the EWADA programme will undoubtedly amplify the impact of our programme’s work with his deep knowledge of web decentralisation technologies and the coherent vision for future of web decentralisation that he possesses.

EWADA project summer internships

EWADA project offers three summer internship positions in 2021

by: Jun Zhao

12 Jul 2021

EWADA (Ethical Web and Data Infrastructure in the Age of AI) [1] is an ambitious 3-year programme that aims to reform the concentration of power on the Web by developing and deploying new forms of technical and legal infrastructure. Commencing in June 2021, the project is led by Prof. Sir. Nigel Shadbolt and Prof. Sir. Tim Berner-Lee and aims to investigate novel re-decentralisation architectures and develop critical privacy-preserving AI methods to re-establish citizen’s self-autonomy on the Web.

We are offering three internship positions this summer to work with Oxford Human Centred Computing (HCC) researchers [2] to develop prototype EWADA web applications, built upon the Solid (Social Linked Data) architecture from MIT [3]. Solid is a standards-based approach that provides practical solutions to web decentralisation and empowers people to take back control of their data and regain their self-autonomy. The candidates are expected to familiarise themselves with the current Solid architectural design and implementations and develop new decentralised web applications on top of Solid, including: enabling logging of our everyday digital health; enabling researchers to share their everyday research data and related artefacts; or enabling users to control data used by online platforms (such as YouTube) and their personalised digital experiences accordingly.

To effectively do this, candidates are expected to have experience with full stack web development and be interested and willing to learn about EWADA research and Solid ecosystems (in Javascript or Python). Moreover, the candidate will need to be able to work well with others, as these roles will be highly collaborative, requiring engaging with research scientists, project administrators, and co-investigators.

The post is expected to be full-time (36.5 hours) for 12 weeks, starting early August 2021 and ending in October 2021, £12.52 - 14.08 (Grade 3.8 - 4.7) per hour, depending on experience. The post does not have to be based in Oxford but will be subject to right to work in the UK.

The post is expected to be full-time for 12 weeks, starting 19 July 2021 (somewhat flexible) and ending in September 2021, £442.88-543.38 per week, depending on experience. The post does not have to be based in Oxford but will be subject to right to work in the UK.

Applications should be submitted to Dr Jun Zhao (jun.zhao@cs.ox.ac.uk), including a 2-page resume, and a short paragraph of background and interests.

The closing date for applications is 12 noon on Friday, 6 August 2021. Candidates will be shortlisted and invited for an interview by 3 August.

Selection criteria


  • The ability to communicate information clearly, including technical content
  • The ability and desire to learn about Solid-related research, to quickly acquire domain expertise needed for effectively developing new web applications
  • The ability and desire to work with research staff to elicit information about how information should be organised
  • Substantial experience developing web-based applications
  • The ability to effectively manage time, to complete projects efficiently
  • The ability to work independently and think creatively


  • Expertise with base Web platform languages & technologies including HTML, CSS and Javascript
  • Expertise with Python and Linux-based Operating Systems
  • Graphic and interaction design experience and expertise

Official Launch of the Oxford Martin School Programme EWADA

Official Launch of the Oxford Martin School Programme EWADA

by: Jun Zhao

01 Jun 2021

Oxford Martin School awarded a multi-million research grant led by Prof Sir Nigel Shadbolt and Prof Sir Tim Berners-Lee to build the new generation world wide web and promote human autonomy and self-determination in the digital societies.

The programme brings together researchers from Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, Faculties of Law and Philosophy, the Oxford Internet Institute and the Blavatnik School of Government.

The ambitious EWADA programme officially kicked off in June 2021! We will be very excited to annouce several opening positions for summer internships 2021 and research positions in early Autumn!