Seminar and Practical Lab for IT approaches against the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, which is spreading worldwide, is presenting people with challenges that have never been faced before in this form in the digital age. The control strategies against the spread of the pathogen are therefore largely based on “traditional” measures such as cross-population behavioral recommendations, movement restrictions, closure of schools, universities and companies, and the identification and quarantine of infected persons. Modern digital technologies could certainly be used to complement these measures and increase their effectiveness, e.g. to target quarantine measures more quickly and specifically at potentially infected persons.

Currently, the virus is spreading exponentially and taking human lives. In order to survive, people must use their inventiveness in the fight against the virus, with the aim of finding effective solutions and supporting health experts and organisations with innovative ideas.

This seminar and the internships therefore also rely a little on the voluntary nature of the participants.


The seminar will be started with a kick-off meeting on

April 30th at 15:00

and facilitated over a video conference. During this video conference we will introduce the topics for the seminar and discuss practicalities about seminar arrangements as well as agree on subequent seminar timing. This information will also be posted on the seminar's Moodle page.

To join the kick-off conference, you only need a web browser (Chrome or Firefox) to visit this link where the conference will be hosted.

Topic and Objectives

The topic of this seminar is to provide a general overview of potential uses of digital technologies in coping with exceptional situations such as the current COVID 19 pandemic and to develop concrete proposals for action.

The focus of this seminar is on data processing and communication systems as well as procedures for data analysis, which enable useful information to be extracted about the emergency situation of a pandemic. The data should be processed, analysed and made available to authorities, people affected by the disaster and users in the broader sense by means of appropriate measures.

The concrete topics and materials will be posted on the seminar's Moodle page starting from April 27th. Please find all additional info there.


The seminar will take place online and will be conducted in two phases.

Phase 1

In the first phase, 'task forces' will be set up to summarise and analyse potential areas of application of digital technologies in various fields of application. This includes both existing systems and potential digital technologies that have not yet been used for disaster management.

At the end of the first phase, the results will be presented online in a mini-seminar.

Phase 2

Based on the findings of the first seminar phase, the task forces develop concrete approaches and to work out a basic design for these solutions. In doing so, the research questions mentioned below are to be considered and a system concept is to be developed.

In a final event the developed solution approaches will be presented online and discussed with the members of the other task forces.

Exemplary Solution Approaches

When it comes to implementing solutions for disaster management, there is a multitude of (potential) solutions:

  • How can data on human movement profiles be used to assess the risk of infection with a pathogen?
  • How can public authorities effectively assess citizens' compliance with behavioural recommendations in order to take this into account in epidemiological prediction models?
  • How can citizens who are or could be in danger due to a disaster situation be effectively and specifically warned?
  • How can citizens best get feedback on their behaviour in a crisis situation and receive concrete and dedicated tips for changing their behaviour?

Research Setting

Certain requirements must be taken into account when devising solutions to manage crisis situations. A central question is therefore how these requirements can be reconciled with efficient crisis management measures. Concrete questions include:

Rule of Law and Proportionality

Solutions require the collection and evaluation of partly personal data. In authoritarian systems, such data may be misused for other purposes, e.g. to monitor or control critics or opponents, under the pretext of disaster management. An important question is therefore how digital technologies and massive data analysis can be used in a democratic system based on the rule of law. Relevant questions here are what are the legal requirements for the use of data and what technical-organizational measures can be used to prevent or severely impede the misuse of data and to ensure the proportionality of data processing.

Privacy Protection

Especially in crisis situations, the improper dissemination of personal information can have far-reaching undesirable consequences for individuals. One question is therefore how to protect or make anonymous data sets that individual users use as a data source in such a way that useful information can be extracted but individual users cannot be identified and undesirable conclusions about user groups involved cannot be drawn.

Protection against Manipulation

Since public authorities and citizens make their decisions based on information obtained from a variety of sources, it is important that systems used for crisis management cannot be manipulated by attackers. An important question is therefore how to design the integrity of data collection and processing in such a way that it is robust against manipulation.

Access Control

In order to enable the authorities to take strategic decisions, it is necessary for competent authorities to be provided with extensive information on the detailed situation in a disaster situation. However, much of this information must be treated confidentially, as uncontrolled dissemination of (partial) information can lead to rumours, fake news as well as panic or hamster purchases among the population. An important component of solutions is therefore that access to information can be controlled and the confidentiality of sensitive information can be ensured.

Social Aspects

In crisis situations the behaviour of people in the affected areas is of immense importance. Solution approaches should therefore also take into account how possible information made available by the system affects the behaviour of the affected users, or in what way.

Example Scenario

Scenario: Since a pathogen spreads via droplet infection, a ban on contact has been issued, which prohibits gatherings of more than n people. However, in buildings or environments that cannot be seen, it can happen that one is unintentionally in the vicinity of too many people.

Approach: Smartphone apps that use a cloud service to measure the concentration of people within a certain radius, e.g. using GPS data, can then alert users that they are in the presence of too many others.

Research Problem: In order to prevent the cloud service from being able to create massive detailed movement profiles of individual users, efficient methods should be used to protect privacy. Instead of GPS data, for example, counting WiFi or Bluetooth beacons in the vicinity could be implemented by smartphones themselves.

Example Applications

Measurement of social distance using mobile phone data:

Smartphone app for detecting potentially infected people:

Corona-App used for monitoring users: