ADM Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Netherlands

New report: 'Automated Decision-Making Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A European Perspective' by AlgorithmWatch and Bertelsmann Stiftung – a special issue of the upcoming Automating Society Report 2020, to be published in October.

Country analysis: Netherlands

By Naomi Appelman and Ronan Fahy

The already quite pervasive techno-optimism and techno-solutionism in the Netherlands has been clearly shown in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Centre stage takes the government’s attempts to develop a contact tracing app.

A failed “appathon”

In April 2020, after a tender period of less than a week, seven possible apps were selected to participate in a so-called weekend-long "appathon". The goal of this appathon was to engage the public and experts to test and improve the apps in the hope one would be suitable for use. The entire process was widely criticised by civil society groups such as Bits of Freedom and a group 60 academics sent an open letter condemning the process (Helberger et al., 2020). The appathon was widely deemed a failure, also as none of the selected apps were deemed safe and usable enough.

Contact tracing app

The government is, at the time of writing (August 2020), in the process of finalising the development and testing of its own app. Called CoronaMelder, and based on Bluetooth technology, it has been released for download on August 17, even though its alert system will only be working in the provinces of Drenthe and Overijssel, where it is being tested before a nationwide release planned for September 2020.

Proctoring software for exam-taking at Dutch universities

Among many others, another striking example of ADM in dealing with the fallout of the pandemic is the use of online proctoring software for exam-taking. Several universities across the Netherlands are obligating their students, if they see no alternatives, to download software that allows the monitoring of a student’s webcam, microphone, web traffic, screen, mouse- and keyboard activity, and tracks movements to determine cheating .

Student unions have protested vehemently against the use of this software. Indeed, two student councils launched legal action over the use of such software. However, in an important judgment, the District Court of Amsterdam ruled that the use of such software was not an unlawful interference with the right to privacy (District Court of Amsterdam, 2020).

Download the full report as PDF (1 MB).

Automated Decision-Making Systems in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A European Perspective is a special issue of the report Automating Society 2020 by AlgorithmWatch and Bertelsmann Stiftung, to be published in October. Subscribe to the our newsletter to be alerted when the report is out.