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Research Spotlight: Philipp Hacker

Hacker ©Philipp Hacker​​

Dear Professor Hacker,

last year, you were honored with the Science Award (Wissenschaftspreis) of the German Foundation for Law and Informatics (Deutsche Stiftung für Recht und Informatik) for your habilitation dissertation. Could you briefly summarize the central subjects of your work?

New technologies converge increasingly toward an all-encompassing Internet of Everything that re-integrates market processes as well. Data has become a novel currency, new intermediaries appear on the scene. For this world of ubiquitous data collection and analysis, my work develops a legal framework both furthering private autonomy and addressing major regulatory challenges (e.g., data protection risks or heterogeneous data protection preferences). The decisive point is that different legal areas, thus far treated largely as separate, must engage with each other to build an appropriate regulatory structure at the intersection of data protection law and private law. The work seeks to define the relation of these legal areas, especially the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, DS-GVO) and the German Civil Code (BGB). In my view, the entanglement of different forms of technology calls for an understanding of legal doctrine transcending the boundaries of separate fields of law, and a concept of regulation resting on an interdisciplinary foundation. Based on existing law, the work thus develops an integrated market regulation for digital exchange relationships. The inquiry closes with reform perspectives, showing how informed consent can be replaced by technological consent to allow the formation of legal relationships based on private autonomy in a digital economy.

In your opinion, what are the reasons behind the Foundation’s decision to award your work with this prize?  

That is naturally always difficult to reconstruct for the author. I think three aspects might have been important. First, dealing with the digital integration of exchange processes, the book is dedicated to a subject of social and political relevance. Second, it ventures into uncharted territory by short-circuiting EU data protection law with private law, which is in part still shaped nationally. This produces a multitude of legal problems. Third, the work integrates decidedly interdisciplinary approaches, primarily from behavioral economics and computer science, into its argumentation, and intertwines them with doctrinal structures of European and German law. I thus hope the work proves compatible for future studies from different perspectives.

At the Viadrina, we would of course wish for more success stories like this. What can the university do, in your opinion, to better support researchers in this respect?

First, I would like to emphasize that my environment at the European New School of Digital Studies very much fertilizes the interdisciplinary orientation of basic legal research. In general, while I was writing my habilitation, it was a great privilege to be funded via scholarships, so that I was able to work on my inquiry with focus and continuity. Research needs such spaces of freedom and time. One idea in this regard might be for the University to offer “writing scholarships”, which would not grant monetary rewards, but a reduction of the teaching load. Researchers could apply for these and, in case of success, focus their work on a large project for a longer period.

Early career researchers must assert themselves in an increasingly competitive environment today. Do you have any advice for researchers in the qualification period at the Viadrina in terms of career planning?

Without regard to the specific discipline, I can only formulate very generic advice. I would think that it is generally important to gather experience at a university chair and in teaching, but then, if possible, to focus on one’s own research and to set a priority there. Substantially, a combination of classical subjects and innovative methodological approaches is surely profitable in many areas. This allows you to cover both the traditional subjects and prove your courage for new ideas during appointment processes for professorships. At the end, my most important advice would be: Stay curious and trust your own ideas!

Thank you very much for answering our questions.