Prof. Dr. Max von Grafenstein

Digital Self-Determination

On August 1, Max von Grafenstein took over the professorship for Digital Self-Determination at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) in association with the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF). Grafenstein was born in Munich and after leaving school he worked for two years in a creative role in the film industry, producing his own short films. He then decided to study law in Regensburg.“For me, law is an incredibly creative subject – if you think of creativity as problem-solving,” says the professor.  After his first state examination, he spent some time in other European countries before completing his articles in Munich. “After that I worked for a short time at UFA, a German TV and film production company based in Potsdam, before gaining a further qualification in ‘the European film industry’ in Paris and Ludwigsburg.” With these extra strings to his bow, he returned to Berlin and founded a startup. “I wanted to show how you can create content that responds to the new ways in which people are using media on the internet – and that you can develop innovative business models based on this content.” He developed MAUERSCHAU, an augmented reality app which presents the stories of people who lived through the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall. While it proved difficult to develop a sustainable business model for the app, it is still running thanks to private support. 

Since 2016 Max von Grafenstein has headed up the research program Governance of Data-Driven Innovation at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG). “I joined HIIG as a PhD student in 2013: As a member of the research group on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, I led the HIIG Startup Law Clinic. I supported more than 100 web-based start-ups in developing product and business model innovations in order to comply with legal requirements and use this as a competitive advantage. This gave us an insight into how start-ups innovate, and we were able to explore the barriers and enabling factors in innovation processes. The key question of my doctorate was how to design data protection law so that it effectively protects against the risks of data-based innovation without unnecessarily inhibiting innovation – and perhaps even fostering it,”says Grafenstein. 

Today, Max von Grafenstein’s project work focuses on new challenges in the digital world. The interdisciplinary project INNOVATION AND LAW explores solutions to help consumers and businesses effectively control the privacy and security risks of data-based products and services. 

He is particularly interested in the “data protection by design” approach, which aims to incorporate the requirements of data protection law into the technical and organizational design of data-based products and companies in such a way that they effectively protect users’ fundamental rights. “In order to develop suitable protective measures, an interdisciplinary approach is needed that combines methodologies not only from law and innovation economics, but also behavioral and design science. A good example of this is data use consent: how do you design consent procedures from a legal and technical point of view so that internet users can make informed decisions?”

Digital self-determination is no longer just a topic for academic research: more and more consumers and businesses are becoming interested in it. “Large firms in particular cannot afford to bring digital products to market anymore without first thinking about the potential risks for users.”

“The professorship in Digital Self-Determination addresses a highly topical issue for us in research and teaching,” says Principal Investigator Professor Dr. Dr. Thomas Schildhauer, who acquired the funding for the professorship.  It is co-financed by Deutsche Kreditbank AG (DKB). (kj)