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Multi‐mode standardization under extreme time‐pressure – the case of COVID‐19 contact‐tracing apps


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The present study investigates the standardization process of contact tracing apps during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Due to the epidemiological urgency, and differing from classical examples in the literature, this process is characterized by a compressed timeframe. In this setting, we investigate the role of different standard‐setting modes and their interaction through the lens of multi‐mode standardization. We find that the processes of standard setting through market competition or inclusive multi‐stakeholder committees proved time‐consuming and inefficient in addressing the immediate needs during this major global health crisis. Multi‐mode standardization between committees, market players, and governments equally proved unable to coordinate a standard. Ultimately, a so far neglected actor, namely platform owners, proved to be pivotal in coordinating a widely‐adopted standard. Our research extends multi‐mode standardization with platform owners as a further standardization actor of proliferating importance given the increasing pervasiveness of platforms in numerous contexts. The present article provides implications for the interplay between different modes of standard setting in general, and the setting of technological standards in crises in particular.
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Multi- mode standardization
under extreme time- pressure–
the case of COVID- 19
contact- tracing apps
Klaus Marhold1,* and Jan Fell1,2
1 Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation,Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna,
1020, Austria.
2 Institute of Service Science,National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, 300044, Taiwan, R.O.C.
The present study investigates the standardization process of contact tracing apps during
the COVID- 19 pandemic. Due to the epidemiological urgency, and differing from classi-
cal examples in the literature, this process is characterized by a compressed timeframe. In
this setting, we investigate the role of different standard- setting modes and their interac-
tion through the lens of multi- mode standardization. We find that the processes of stand-
ard setting through market competition or inclusive multi- stakeholder committees proved
time- consuming and inefficient in addressing the immediate needs during this major global
health crisis. Multi- mode standardization between committees, market players, and govern-
ments equally proved unable to coordinate a standard. Ultimately, a so far neglected actor,
namely platform owners, proved to be pivotal in coordinating a widely- adopted standard.
Our research extends multi- mode standardization with platform owners as a further stand-
ardization actor of proliferating importance given the increasing pervasiveness of platforms
in numerous contexts. The present article provides implications for the interplay between
different modes of standard setting in general, and the setting of technological standards in
crises in particular.
1. Introduction
There is a strong interest in the literature about
technological standards and the process through
which they are created and implemented (Narayanan
and Chen, 2012). Prior literature has discussed how
standards often exist concurrently in competing re-
lationships for years (Schilling, 2002). Even when
multi- stakeholder committees collaborate in the
development of a standard to avoid long periods of
uncertainty (Gallagher, 2007), it may require years
for a standard to be released (O’Connell, 2013).
Increasingly, standards arise out of multi- mode stan-
dardization, i.e., through the interaction between
different paths to standardization, such as markets,
committees, and governments (Wiegmann et al.,
2017), adding complexity to already drawn- out
Crises, such as the coronavirus disease 2019
(COVID-19) pandemic, can lead to extreme time
pressure to develop, standardize, and roll- out technol-
ogies. A recent example of a key technology requiring
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
2 R&D Management 2021
standardization are COVID-19 contact- tracing apps
(Sun and Viboud, 2020; Ting et al., 2020). This
technology must be supported by standardization
processes faster than the archetypical multi- year
processes, given that delays in effectively combating
the COVID- 19 pandemic could lead to prolonged
negative socio- economic consequences (Nicola et al.,
2020; Breeze, 2021). Contact- tracing apps automat-
ically record physical proximity between mobile
phones (Ferretti et al., 2020), notifying users if they
were in close contact with an infected person (McCall,
2020). As network goods, these apps depend heavily
on mutual compatibility and thus on standardization.
Studies indicate a need for 60%– 75% of a popula-
tion to use mutually compatible apps to achieve epi-
demiological effectiveness (Hinch et al., 2020; The
Straits Times, 2020a). However, while contact- tracing
apps had been used in research settings since 2010
(Yoneki and Crowcroft, 2014), no common standard
or deployable solution existed at the outbreak of the
pandemic in early 2020 (Oliver et al., 2020). This
dearth has led diverse actors to rapidly develop apps
and work toward their standardization.
Expecting that standard setting under a compressed
temporal frame substantially differs from what was
investigated by the extant literature, we investigate
different approaches to standardize contact- tracing
apps. Our analysis, through the lens of the Wiegmann
et al. (2017) multi- mode standardization framework,
highlights the difficulties of various actors to coordi-
nate standardization within a compressed timeframe.
We find that an actor thus far not considered in the
standardization literature, namely Apple and Google
as mobile operating system platform owners, played
an important role in setting the eventual contact-
tracing standard. An investigation of the role of plat-
form owners, which often exercise absolute power
over their platforms (Cutolo and Kenney, 2020), in
standard- setting processes is relevant given the con-
tinued proliferation of platforms in contexts such as
mobile technologies, electric vehicles, software, and
multimedia content (Parker et al., 2016; van Dijck
et al., 2018). Platforms also play an ever- increasing
role in responding to various crises, ranging from
health crises (Krausz et al., 2020) to natural disasters
(Poblet et al., 2014).
2. Theoretical background
2.1. Standards and standard setting
Standards are rules facilitating compatibility
between technological products (Katz and Shapiro,
1985; Gandal, 2002),1 and thereby complement
dominant designs (Gallagher, 2007), which
alone do not imply mutual compatibility (Afuah,
2003). Mutual compatibility reduces uncertainty
(Rosenberg, 1976). This is especially relevant for
network goods that do not offer benefits in isola-
tion but increase in utility with an increase in the
number of adopters (Henderson and Clark, 1990;
Shapiro and Varian, 1999; Chen and Forman, 2006).
An example of this is the video cassette. By the
1980s, magnetic tapes held in plastic cartridges had
evolved as the dominant design in the home video
market, though several mutually incompatible
standards backed by different market players (e.g.,
Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s video home system
[VHS]) existed in competition (Cusumano et al.,
1992). An increase in the population of VHS adopt-
ers led to an increase in the utility of VHS, with the
movie industry and rental chains offering a wider
selection of titles (Ohashi, 2003). Analogous cases
include the DVD, the Blu- ray Disc, online social
networks, or peer- to- peer file sharing (Dranove and
Gandal, 2003; Lin and Kulatilaka, 2006; Salek et al.,
2010; Wang, 2010).
As presented in the preceding examples and mir-
roring dominant designs, standards can exist con-
currently in competition (Schilling, 2002). This is
typical for de facto standards emerging from mar-
ket competition (Farrell and Saloner, 1986a; Rada,
1993; Updegrove, 1995; Lee and Mendelson, 2007;
Techatassanasoontorn and Suo, 2011; Tamura, 2015).
They are unlike de jure standards officially approved
by a recognized standards developing organization
(SDO)2 or government agency (Farrell and Saloner,
1986b; Rada, 1993; International Organization for
Standardization, 2020b). While generally de jure
standards embody best practices agreed upon by
expert consensus (McCallum, 1996; International
Organization for Standardization, 2020a), de facto
standards do not necessarily embody best practices.
VHS is a well- known example of a technologically
inferior de facto standard emerging from market
competition (Higuchi and Troutt, 2008; Barney,
The binary categorization of standard setting
modes into de jure and de facto standards is per-
vasive in prior literature (e.g., Farrell and Saloner,
1986a; Rada, 1993; Updegrove, 1993; Olle, 1996;
Schilling, 2002; Suárez, 2004; Lee and Mendelson,
2007; Leiponen, 2008; Büthe and Mattli, 2010;
Bryer et al., 2011; Narayanan and Chen, 2012).
However, for several technologies (e.g., 3G, Java,
and FireWire), the standard setting did not occur
through an ideal- typical single mode, but mate-
rialized when actors coordinated across modes
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Multi- mode standardization under extreme time- pressure
R&D Management 2021 3
(e.g., Garud et al., 2002; Gao, 2014; van de Kaa
and Vries, 2015).
2.2. Coordination across modes in
standard setting
In this vein, the multi- mode standardization view
recognizes that whether and at which pace a standard
emerges, is implemented and subsequently adopted,
depends on the coordination between actors involved
in this process (Wiegmann et al., 2017). These actors
comprise individual firms, industry consortia, stan-
dards organizations, professional associations, and
government agencies (Leiponen, 2014; Yates and
Murphy, 2019; Conde et al., 2020). In their semi-
nal work on multi- mode standardization, Wiegmann
et al. (2017) provide a granular typology of standard-
setting modes, where apart from de- facto standards
(i.e., market- based), they further differentiate de- jure
standards as either committee- based (i.e., set by a
standards organization), or government- based (i.e.,
set by a government agency). Table1 presents these
ideal- typical standard- setting modes market- based,
committee- based, and government- based standards –
and their characteristics.
Unlike this ideal- typical view, there exist several
relationships, interactions, and interdependencies
between actors across the ideal- typical standard-
setting modes, whereby the setting of a standard
becomes multimodal (Wiegmann et al., 2017).
These multimodal relationships include commit-
tee and market actors (e.g., Funk and Methe, 2001;
von Burg, 2001; de Vries et al., 2008; Blind, 2011);
government and committee actors (Pelkmans, 2001;
Egyedi and Spirco, 2011; Townes, 2012; Gao, 2014);
government and market actors (Rosen et al., 1988;
Funk and Methe, 2001; Puffert, 2002); or markets,
committees, and governments (Abbate, 2001; Büthe
and Mattli, 2011; Bakker et al., 2015).
Despite their increasing significance, literature
has paid limited attention to multi- mode standard-
ization occurring on platforms (Wiegmann et al.,
2017). Here, platforms refer to business models
utilizing technology to enable various stakeholders
to create and exchange value within an ecosystem
(Parker et al., 2016). Real- life ubiquitous examples
of organizations subscribed to the platform business
model are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and
Microsoft (van Dijck et al., 2018). The governance
mechanisms of platforms are defined and estab-
lished by the platform owner (Ballon, 2009; Hein et
al., 2020). This level of control implies a significant
influence of platform owners on the standard- setting
processes. For instance, platform owners Apple and
Google, which in late 2020 controlled almost 100%
of the mobile operating system market (Statista,
2020), actively curate and limit the extent to which
stakeholders (e.g., third- party developers) may add
their products and services (generally in the form of
apps) to the iOS and Android platforms (Hänninen
and Paavola, 2020). In summary, multi- mode stan-
dardization processes are of high relevance for plat-
forms, which are characterized by often complex
interactions between owners and various stakehold-
ers. Given the relevance and increasing prevalence
of platforms, it would behoove scholars and practi-
tioners to better understand the multi- mode aspects
of standardization and the role platform owners play
in the standard- setting processes.
3. Method
3.1. Research approach and context
To investigate the standard- setting process of contact-
tracing apps in Europe, we employ a case study
approach. While the methodology literature sug-
gests multiple- case study designs (Eisenhardt, 1989,
1991), single- case studies are appropriate ‘where the
case represents an extreme case or an unusual case,
deviating from theoretical norms or even everyday
occurrences’ (Yin, 2014, p. 173). This is also in line
with prior empirical research on standardization
reporting on single cases (e.g., Blind, 2002; Garud
et al., 2002; Büthe and Mattli, 2010; Townes, 2012).
COVID- 19 started spreading in Europe in
February of 2020, and within less than a month suf-
fused to all European countries (Whitworth, 2020).
From March onwards, the increasing number of cases
resulted in governments implementing measures
ranging from travel restrictions to lockdowns (Cohen
and Kupferschmidt, 2020). At the same time, many
different organizations were working on supporting
health authorities’ contact- tracing efforts through
automated solutions. These ranged from commercial
companies and startups to multi- national committees
formed to develop such solutions, providing oppor-
tunities to investigate the different standardization
modes (Table1) and their interactions.
3.2. Data collection and analysis
Our case study on the standardization of contact trac-
ing apps in Europe is based on a variety of primary
and secondary research data and has been conducted
in three broad phases (Table2).
The first exploratory phase (March to April
2020) aimed to gain an understanding of the initial
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
4 R&D Management 2021
Table 1. Ideal- typical modes of standardization
Committee- based Market- based Government- based
Relationships between
Coordination mechanism Coordination through cooperation between
stakeholders. Standards are developed in com-
mittees and only diffused if members agree on
a common solution
Solutions intended as a standard can be de-
veloped by anyone. Coordination through
competition between solutions in the market,
leading often (but not always) to one de- facto
Solutions intended as a standard can come from
various sources. Coordination through govern-
ments using their hierarchical position to
impose these standards’ use on others
Timing of coordination Coordination takes place during standard devel-
opment – only one solution is chosen to enter
the market
Coordination takes place during diffusion – dif-
ferent standards are developed and compete
with each other
Governments can intervene in development or
mandate using an already developed standard
Main actors driving the
standardization process
Predominantly private: Stakeholders cooperat-
ing in committees; SDOs providing a platform
for standard development
Predominantly private: Individual market actors
influencing the outcome of the market com-
petition with their actions
Predominantly public: Governmental bodies de-
veloping standards and/or enforcing their use
Avenues of influence Participating in committees to influence stand-
ards’ contents
Engaging in the market to influence battles’
outcomes by influencing decisive factors
Influencing government decision- making
through lobbying or parliamentary
Inclusiveness in standard
High, any interested party can join a committee Varies, some standard development venues are
open; access to others is restricted
Medium, lobbying may require high effort
Source: Obtained from Wiegmann et al. (2017).
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Multi- mode standardization under extreme time- pressure
R&D Management 2021 5
development process of contact- tracing solutions
in Europe. In this phase, a key source of primary
information was Novid20, an Austrian social startup
founded to develop an app- based contact- tracing
solution. Novid20 was considered a suitable data
source for three reasons. First, the authors were
granted access to various internal Novid20 meetings
and documents. These documents contained informa-
tion on other solutions, actors, marketing documents,
pitch decks, app specifications, and meeting minutes.
Second, Novid20 is representative of organizations
that undertook the development of contact- tracing
apps in Europe in the spring of 2020. Third, Novid20
was a member of Pan- European Privacy- Preserving
Proximity Tracing (PEPP- PT), one of the two com-
mittees aiming to implement a common standard
across Europe.
In the second phase (May 2020), based on our
understanding of the initial development pro-
cess of contact- tracing apps, we focused on the
Table 2. Phases of research and employed research data
Phase Focus Data and examples
Phase 1: Initial
Overall picture and timeline of the initial
development process of contact tracing
solutions from the perspective of one of
the many startup actors involved in this
Primary data
Participation in more than 50 online
meetings of Novid20
Internal documents of Novid20
Overview document of contact tracing
8 pitch decks for various national and
international potential users
2 diaries of key decisions taken by the
founder and the HR manager
Access to more than 10,000 internal
messages on the organization’s Slack
messenger account
Access to more than 200 emails between
Novid20 and external contacts
Phase 2: Dominant de-
sign and standards
Emergence of a dominant design
Early attempts at setting a European
standard through the committee- based
Primary data
Interviews with Novid20 leading
Secondary data
News reports (e.g., BBC, 2020b;
Financial Times, 2020b; Reuters, 2020d)
Medical and epidemiological research ar-
ticles (e.g., Hellewell et al., 2020; Wang
et al., 2020)
Research articles on contact tracing solu-
tions (e.g., Abeler et al., 2020; Vaughan,
Phase 3: Multi- mode
Multi- mode standardization
Analysis of the resultant standard and
how it arose with the involvement of a
new type of actor (i.e., platform owners)
Primary data
Interviews with DP- 3T co- initiators
EU documents (e.g., eHealth Network,
2020a; European Commission, 2020a)
National government documents (e.g.,
French Government, 2020; German
Federal Government, 2020; Swiss
Federal Council, 2020)
Information released by committees (e.g.,
DP- 3T, 2020c; PEPP- PT, 2020b)
Secondary data
News reports (e.g., Bloomberg, 2020; The
Guardian, 2020)
Research articles on contact tracing solu-
tions (e.g., Ahmed et al., 2020; Shubina
et al., 2020)
Modelled after the matrix data display for qualitative research in Verdinelli and Scagnoli (2013).
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
6 R&D Management 2021
standard- setting process. To this end, we conducted
a series of formal interviews with key personnel of
Novid20. All interview participants (Table 3) pro-
vided information on Novid20’s development and
diffusion efforts and the activities of PEPP- PT. We
augmented this information using publicly accessible
secondary data.
In the third phase (October to December 2020),
heeding to comments received on an earlier version
of this work, we examined the standardization pro-
cess through the lens of multi- mode standardiza-
tion. Hence, in this phase, the supplementary data
collection focused on the various actors – market
participants, committees, and government agen-
cies – and their interactions. We gained key insights
through formal interviews with co- initiators of the
Decentralized Privacy- Preserving Proximity Tracing
(DP- 3T) committee. DP- 3T was initiated by research-
ers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in
Lausanne (EPFL); it developed the specifications
and protocols that eventually served as the basis for
the Apple/Google contact- tracing standard (The New
York Times, 2020a).
We conducted semi- structured interviews lasting
for 20 to 40min (Table3). The interview questions
(Appendices A and B) aimed to collect general infor-
mation about the interviewees – their organizational
role and experience with standards during the devel-
opment process – and the collaboration between dif-
ferent actors. We collected additional primary data
from committees, Apple/Google, and the European
Union (EU) by accessing their websites and the code
repository GitHub. The collection of secondary data
throughout Phases 2 and 3 was conducted with the
broad selection criteria of source credibility and
expected contribution to our understanding of the
case. We used Web of Science to identify relevant
academic literature and Factiva and Pressreader to
locate news articles.
The various data sources allowed us to apply tri-
angulation (Amaratunga and Baldry, 2001; Maxwell
and Reybold, 2015) to corroborate information and
fill in gaps in our understanding of the case. In the first
phase of the research, we employed inductive coding.
The second phase relied on a blended approach
(Skjott Linneberg and Korsgaard, 2019) that mixed
certain deductive categories resulting from the
research in Phase 1 with inductive coding, especially
in such interviews revealing new information to us.
For the third phase of the research, which was closer
aligned with the Wiegmann et al. (2017) multi- mode
standardization framework, we employed a deduc-
tive coding scheme. Table4 provides an overview of
the coding schemes and key categories.
4. Findings
4.1. The emergence of a dominant design
Actors in Europe had a variety of options when
considering technical solutions for contact- tracing.
Countries and territories in East and Southeast Asia,
which were the first to be affected by COVID- 19,
developed and employed different technological
approaches to contact- tracing. In Mainland China,
the government rolled out a QR code- based solution
(Kamel Boulos and Geraghty, 2020; Mozur et al.,
2020), while Taiwan employed analysis of mobile
phone location data (Chen et al., 2020). In South
Korea, behavioral big data (Shmueli, 2017) was
pooled and provided to the authorities (Park et al.,
However, it became apparent that while effective
in their home markets, these solutions would not
work in Europe due to differences in data availability,
as well as data privacy laws and norms (Klonowska,
2020). Instead, the focus quickly shifted to
Bluetooth- based contact- tracing apps. This was also
inspired by Singapore launching the Bluetooth- based
TraceTogether app in mid- March (Bay et al., 2020;
McCall, 2020).
If you consider digital contact tracing, it was clear
to us that Bluetooth was the way to go. And all other
proposed solutions in Europe were using Bluetooth,
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 1
Table 3. Overview of formal interviews
Organization Role within the organization Interview date
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 1 2020- 11- 25
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 2 2020- 11- 25
Novid20 Founder 2020- 05- 04
Novid20 Managing Director 2020- 05- 05
Novid20 Chief Technology Officer 2020- 05- 06
Novid20 Stakeholder Relations Officer 2020- 05- 06
Novid20 Security and Privacy Lead 2020- 05- 09
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Multi- mode standardization under extreme time- pressure
R&D Management 2021 7
The emergence of Bluetooth- based contact- tracing
apps as the dominant design did by itself not ensure
interoperability. Subsequent standardization pro-
cesses focused on the underlying data architecture
and protocols.
4.2. Single mode attempts at setting a
Initial efforts at setting a standard for contact- tracing
apps predominantly took place within one of the
ideal- typical standardization modes, that is, market-
based, committee- based, and government- based.
4.2.1. Market- based
The market mode of standard setting highlights that
solutions can be developed by anyone and that coor-
dination happens as the various solutions compete in
the market (Wiegmann et al., 2017).
Indeed, in March and April 2020, a large num-
ber of different solutions were developed by firms,
startups and non- profit organizations, e.g., Novid20,
CoEpi, COVID Community Alert, COVID19 Alert,
and COVID Safe Paths (eHealth Network, 2020b).
A review of contact- tracing apps identified more
than 50 apps in use worldwide (Shubina et al.,
2020). The emergence of different solutions might
also be explained by the fact that some of the early
solutions were not immediately released as open
source, as the process of documenting the protocol
and providing reference implementations takes some
time (, 2020). As the CTO of
Novid20 mentioned, the time pressure to release a
functional contact- tracing app prompted them to
develop their own solution, rather than wait for other
developers’ open- source documentation:
We were operating under time pressure. Nobody
could know how the COVID- 19 crises would develop.
For us, waiting for a standard was not a scenario that
we considered. Rather, we built something based on
our existing technological capabilities while ensur-
ing the flexibility to adopt future standards.
Novid20 CTO
An interesting situation occurred in Austria, where
under normal market- based standardization, compe-
tition between the two local market actors Novid20
and Red Cross would have eventually resulted in a
de- facto standard. However, realizing the harmful
effects of competing to become the national stan-
dard, Novid20 decided not to release its app:
Under normal circumstances, we should have re-
leased our app and let the market decide. We acted
in the interest of the greater good, since two apps
would have confused the Austrian population and
negatively impacted public health.
Novid20 CTO
4.2.2. Committee- based
Standardization through committees refers to a coop-
erative mode of coordination involving a wide array
of stakeholders, such as SDOs, industry consortia,
as well as professional and trade associations. These
stakeholders cooperate to define a standard before
its subsequent diffusion, which aids the standard’s
legitimacy and reduces uncertainty (Wiegmann
et al., 2017).
Two committees aiming to coordinate and diffuse
a contact- tracing standard utilizing Bluetooth were
formed in Europe in the first week of April 2020,
namely PEPP- PT (TechCrunch, 2020a), and DP- 3T
The key question was what kind of protocol to run
on top of Bluetooth. We started collaborating with
a lot of scientists to come up with a very efficient
Table 4. Data analysis approach
Phase Approach Key themes/categories
Phase 1: Initial observations Inductive Background, solutions, motivations, actors
Phase 2: Dominant design and standards Blended Dominant design, standards, competition, col-
laboration, data privacy, ethics
Phase 3: Multi- mode standardization Deductive Ideal- typical Modes of standardization
Committee- based
Market- based
Government- based
Multi- mode standardization
Government- and market- based
Committee- and market- based
Government- and committee- based
Platform owners in the standardization process
Platform owners as a new type of actor
Multi- mode standardization efforts
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
8 R&D Management 2021
and privacy- preserving protocol that satisfies all the
needs of the epidemiologists. This was a goal- driven
design, not just a random walk in the solution space.
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 1
These two committees proposed diametrically
opposed approaches, specifically centralized versus
de- centralized contact- tracing (Langheinrich, 2020).
In the centralized approach, all apps are connected
to a central authority. The central authority stores
all contact- tracing data, and determines their further
use and disclosure. Conversely, in the decentralized
approach, no entity is a sole authority or has con-
trol over the whole network and generated data (Dar
et al., 2020). Participation in either of the two com-
mittees thus largely reflected support for either of
these approaches. While hailed by some to represent a
superior means to coordinate a quick and coordinated
epidemiological response (White and Basshuysen,
2020), the centralized approach provoked fears of
mass surveillance and malicious use of the contact-
tracing data (Sweeney, 2020; Vaudenay, 2020). The
ensuing discussion led to a rift, with proponents for
both solutions openly criticizing the other solution
while advocating for their own (Reuters, 2020d).
For instance, when on April 18th PEPP- PT released
a document illustrating their proposed security and
data protection specifications on GitHub, DP- 3T
responded a day later with a detailed critique (DP-
3T, 2020c). DP- 3T has since then been backed by
several actors formerly participating in PEPP- PT
(Bloomberg, 2020; Fortune, 2020; Reuters, 2020c).
Ultimately, neither PEPP- PT nor DP- 3T were able
to on their own diffuse a widely adopted standard
between March and June of 2020 (Politico, 2020).
4.2.3. Government- based
Governments can also play an important role by using
a hierarchical position to coordinate and impose
standards. They can either develop these standards
themselves or mandate the use of an existing stan-
dard (Wiegmann et al., 2017).
Given the importance of contact- tracing in aug-
menting public health efforts, national governments
got involved in the standard- setting process. France,
for example, pushed for a domestic, centralized solu-
tion. To succeed, however, it had to solve a techni-
cal issue that had plagued contact- tracing apps on
Apple’s iOS devices since the launch of the first
apps in Singapore, Australia, and Canada (ABC
News, 2020; Global News, 2020; The Straits Times,
2020b). Specifically, certain Bluetooth functions are
limited when the app is not active or the device is in
standby mode. Hence, for full operability, on iPhones
the app has to be running in the foreground, limiting
the use of the device for other tasks. This issue con-
strained the functionality of the apps, and because
of negative user experiences, threatened the wide-
spread adoption of such apps. France demanded that
Apple solve this issue to ensure full operability of
its national contact- tracing solution (BBC, 2020b).
This request was denied, leading to perpetual inop-
erability of the standard released by the French gov-
ernment (Reuters, 2020b). A similar case unfolded
in the United Kingdom (UK), where the government
had decided to develop a national centralized solu-
tion. Citing issues of operating this solution on Apple
devices, in June 2020, the UK government decided to
switch to the Apple/Google standard, which did not
face such limitations (Financial Times, 2020c; The
Guardian, 2020).
In Europe, the cross- country functionality of
contact- tracing apps played a large role in plans to
ensure a safe re- opening of internal borders. The EU,
a supranational institution with quasi- governmental
qualities, did not push for a specific standard, but
took a different role. In early April, it published a
recommendation (European Commission, 2020a) on
the use of contact- tracing apps in Europe, pointing
towards ‘interoperability and promotion of com-
mon solutions’ as an important factor (European
Commission, 2020b). This was followed by the
release of more detailed interoperability guide-
lines (eHealth Network, 2020a, 2020b). This focus
became more apparent, when in June member
states agreed on interoperability for their decentral-
ized contact- tracing apps (European Commission,
2020d). The required infrastructure was set up by
two commercial companies, with the data being
hosted by the European Commission’s data center. It
became operational on the 19th of October of 2020,
when the Apple/Google- based contact- tracing apps
of Germany, Italy, and Ireland were linked to the sys-
tem (European Commission, 2020c).
4.3. Multi- mode standardization
Actors not only engaged in developing solutions and
propagating standards on their own (and thus within
the ideal- typical standardization modes), but also,
sometimes concurrently, in various collaborative
configurations across modes.
4.3.1. Government- and market- based
When governments and markets interact, govern-
ments may use their hierarchical powers to directly
influence a national standard, thereby preventing the
prolonged period of competition between market
actors innate to the ideal- typical market- based stan-
dardization. Beyond the national level, governments
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Multi- mode standardization under extreme time- pressure
R&D Management 2021 9
usually do not possess the hierarchical means to
directly influence the standardization process.
Nevertheless, their backing and support can send
strong signals to the market (Wiegmann et al., 2017).
European governments engaged in various stan-
dardization efforts with market players. The German
government joined SAP and Deutsche Telekom in
the development of a national contact- tracing solu-
tion (Bloomberg, 2020), and the Austrian govern-
ment joined the Austrian Red Cross and Accenture
in the development of a national solution (Accenture,
2020). What these examples have in common is that
governments picked a single solution from the many
under development in their respective country, thus
aiming to avoid the usual period of competition for
dominance among market actors.
While governments used their hierarchical means
to influence the standardization process on the
national level by involving themselves in the com-
petition between market actors, two important short-
comings remained. First, national governments and
market actors were unable to compel Apple to allow
the required Bluetooth functionality on iOS devices,
thus rendering any coordinated standard epidemio-
logically useless. Second, the coordinated standards
were proprietary and not interoperable. Recalling the
country- like qualities of the EU – namely the free-
dom of movement of citizens, goods, and services –
interoperability was a crucial design requirement
from an epidemiological point of view. And while the
ability of national governments to shorten standard
battles was limited to national markets, the EU also
proved unable to hierarchically, or otherwise, coor-
dinate a pan- European standard among the different
market players in the member states (Kask, 2020).
4.3.2. Committee- and market- based
Elements of competition and cooperation are com-
bined when committee- and market- based stan-
dardization jointly drive the standardization process
(Wiegmann et al., 2017).
In the early weeks of the pandemic, various start-
ups and initiatives had commenced working on app-
based Bluetooth contact- tracing solutions (eHealth
Network, 2020b). While these actors competed for
being the first to deploy or enjoy widespread adop-
tion – behaviors characteristics of market- based stan-
dardization (Farrell and Saloner, 1986a; Updegrove,
1995) – a number of them (e.g., Heartbeat Labs,
Novid20, and Tourmaline Labs) also joined the
PEPP- PT committee (PEPP- PT, 2020b). Thus,
PEPP- PT as a committee differed from DP- 3T in that
it not only invited universities and research institutes,
but also market actors already in the process of devel-
oping contact- tracing apps (PEPP- PT, 2020a). As the
Novid20 CTO remarked during the interview, market
actors saw the committee as means to coordination
and exchange, and to gain information on approaches
being deliberated and developed. Nevertheless, at the
same time they continued pursuing the diffusion and
adoption of their own standards. He attributed this
dual- pronged approach to the impression that coor-
dination within the committee resulted in a slower
speed of development than in smaller, more agile
Despite the inclusion of numerous market actors,
the PEPP- PT committee was unable to transform its
proposed standard into a widely adopted contact-
tracing app between April and June of 2020 (Politico,
2020), and by November 2020 the committee’s web-
site was unreachable.3 It thus appears that market
actors involved in PEPP- PT could not benefit from
the usual advantage associated with combined com-
mittee- and market- based standardization, i.e., the
faster coordination of a standard through rounds of
negotiations between the market- actor stakeholders
of the committee with the aim of reducing rivaling
solutions (Farrell and Saloner, 1988).
4.3.3. Government- and committee- based
In some cases, a standard is the product of interplay
between government and a committee. In this devi-
ation from ideal- typical modes, governments either
use hierarchical means to direct the outcomes of
committee- based standardization, or enter the com-
mittee as a powerful actor (Wiegmann et al., 2017).
Several European countries directly influenced
or actively campaigned for either of the two com-
mittees, namely PEPP- PT and DP- 3T. Initially,
governments supported whichever of these two
committees included actors from their respective
country. The German government supported the
PEPP- PT committee, which featured research units
of the public Fraunhofer Institute, the government-
operated Robert Koch Institute, and a number of
public research universities among its stakeholders
(NPR, 2020; PEPP- PT, 2020b). Germany’s sup-
port included advocacy and involvement of national
research institutes, as well as publicly hinting at
adopting the PEPP- PT standard for the national
contact- tracing app (German Federal Government,
2020). Conversely, the Swiss government advocated
for the DP- 3T committee, initiated by Swiss uni-
versities, and ultimately implemented their solution
in the Swiss contact- tracing app (SwissInfo, 2020).
Thus, in the present case, governments were involved
as powerful actors in both committees either through
national research organizations, or as ardent pro-
moters of a standard developed by committees in
their respective countries. In this vein, Germany’s
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
10 R&D Management 2021
health minister Jens Spahn characterized the rivalry
between PEPP- PT and DP- 3T as ‘a war of religion’
(Reuters, 2020a).
In April 2020, the centralized approach became
the focus of serious criticism due to privacy and data
protection concerns. The significant impact of gov-
ernment involvement in the committees was illus-
trated by national governments switching support
from PEPP- PT to DP- 3T (TechCrunch, 2020b). In
late April, the German government abandoned the
centralized approach, and instead switched support
to the decentralized approach proposed by the DP-
3T committee (Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation,
2020; Foreign Policy, 2020). Without government
support, the departure of public research institutes,
as well as government agencies, the PEPP- PT com-
mittee soon faltered. Yet, it was not the support by
an increasing number of national governments that
majorly benefited the adoption of DP- 3T’s solu-
tion, but, as presented in the following section, the
involvement of a new type of actor in the standard-
setting process.
4.4. A new type of actor transcending
standardization modes
Despite the various single- and multi- modal attempts
at standardization, in Spring of 2020, the market was
in a heterogeneous state and characterized by an
abundance of non- interoperable solutions (European
Commission, 2020e). A major development in April
of 2020 was the announcement of a partnership
between Apple and Google to work on an interop-
erable Bluetooth contact- tracing standard (Apple,
2020a). In the midst of a global health crisis, Apple
and Google recognized the urgent need for a contact-
tracing standard, and decided to jointly allocate their
immense resources to this task (Apple, 2020c):
All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never
been a more important moment to work together to
solve one of the world’s most pressing problems.
Through close cooperation and collaboration with
developers, governments, and public health provid-
ers, we hope to harness the power of technology to
help countries around the world slow the spread of
COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.
The Google Apple Exposure Notification solution
provides a standard protocol for Bluetooth contact-
tracing apps on mobile devices running iOS and
Android (TechCrunch, 2020c). A major technical
challenge experienced by committees, govern-
ments, and firms engaged in standardization efforts
was overcome as Apple’s restrictions on the use
of Bluetooth in standby mode were lifted for con-
tact tracing apps adopting the Apple/Google stan-
dard (BBC, 2020a). Additionally, apps utilizing the
Apple/Google solution became in principle interop-
erable, thus laying the foundation for EU- wide roam-
ing (European Commission, 2020e). While France
continued to resist the quasi- hierarchical imposition
of a standard by platform owners Apple and Google
(BBC, 2020b), within weeks of its release, the vast
majority of EU member states had adopted this stan-
dard (The New York Times, 2020b; Reuters, 2020c).
[…] once a standard has been developed by the two
players that control the platform, which is what Apple
and Google do in mobile phones, then it doesn’t re-
ally matter what you want, it only matters what they
want. France hasn’t yet conceded that, but that is the
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 2
The abrupt end of solution heterogeneity in Europe
resulting from Apple and Google coordinating an
interoperable standard highlights the government-
like qualities innate to platform owners. Further,
France’s futile attempts to impose its own standard
on Apple (Financial Times, 2020a) and the UK’s
departure from its own solution in favor of Apple
and Google (Financial Times, 2020c), reveal quali-
ties that go beyond the hierarchical means of govern-
ments, which are typically limited to their territories
(Wiegmann et al., 2017).
You could not build a contact tracing app on iOS
without Apple’s involvement, because of the security
and privacy features of the system.
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 2
A specific diversion from extant descriptions of
the government- based standardization mode per-
tains the ability of platform owners acting as
quasi- governments on their platforms, and thus exer-
cising powers over actual national governments. For
instance, in its contact- tracing terms of service, Apple
and Google place restrictions on any repurposing of
data by national governments beyond the use scope
unilaterally permitted by the two platform owners in
the first place (Apple, 2020b; Google, 2020).
4.4.1. Multi- mode standardization between
platform and committee
Apple and Google did not develop the contact-
tracing standard on their own. Rather, it was DP- 3T,
which laid the foundations and approached Apple
and Google with the aim of jointly coordinating a
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Multi- mode standardization under extreme time- pressure
R&D Management 2021 11
We approached Apple and Google through our con-
tacts, and send them a message – which was really a
redundant message – that the two of them would have
to work together so that there would be a solution
that worked for all phones. We pushed our solution,
which was at that point developed and published.
And it turns out that because of Apple’s fairly strong
position in favor of privacy, this was the more fa-
vored solution to them than the centralized protocol.
They evaluated the two approaches and decided that
they would go with the DP- 3T solution.
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 2
This resulting standard is the product of collabora-
tion between DP- 3T and Apple and Google, who
worked together on integrating their proposed decen-
tralized standard into an earlier unreleased version of
the Apple/Google standard (DP- 3T, 2020a).
The original Apple/Google solution had some differ-
ences we did not consider as advantageous. And we
worked with them and pushed them to implement a
few other things.
DP- 3T Co- Initiator 2
The decision- making processes within Apple and
Google are not publicly disclosed, and neither is
there a formal and transparent process by which
other actors (i.e., market players, committees, or
governments) can participate in the standard- setting
process. While in this specific case, DP- 3T was able
to convince Apple and Google of their solution from
a technological and epidemiological standpoint, no
formal mechanism of coordination existed, pointing
to limited avenues of influence and low inclusiveness.
5. Discussion
During the early phase of the COVID- 19 outbreak
in Asia, different approaches to contact- tracing
were pursued. These ranged from GPS tracking, QR
Codes, and big data analytics, to Bluetooth- based
apps. When COVID- 19 reached Europe, Bluetooth-
based contact- tracing apps quickly emerged as the
dominant design. The time pressure to release a
working contact- tracing solution caused market
actors to commence immediate, and at the same time
uncoordinated, development. This led to the creation
of a multitude of similar, yet mutually incompati-
ble solutions. Our observations in this initial phase
concur with characterizations of the market- based
standardization mode in prior literature: standard-
ization requires long periods of time, resulting in
major uncertainty over which solution to back. In
the pandemic, prolonged standard- setting processes
and technological uncertainty would have had neg-
ative epidemiological and socioeconomic effects.
Ultimately, the market did not have the opportunity
to coordinate a standard, as market actors were out-
paced by Apple’s and Google’s sudden entrance to
the standardization process.
In prior examples, such as USB (O’Connell,
2013), wireless LAN (Hayes, 1991), and JPEG
(Graham et al., 2018), committees played an import-
ant role. These commonly involve competing firms
and techno- scientific organizations coordinating
standards before products are developed and mar-
keted (Jakobs et al., 2001; Gallagher, 2007). While
the setting of standards through this mode bene-
fits from legitimacy and network effects through
the involvement of multiple stakeholders (Koppell,
2010), efforts can take years to result in a standard.
In the case of contact- tracing apps in Europe, this
slower speed of coordination caused market actors
(e.g., app startups) to continue promoting their
own solutions rather than rally behind a committee.
Eventually, and analogous to the market mode, com-
mittees did not have the opportunity to coordinate a
standard. The sudden entrance of Apple and Google
to the standardization process simply outpaced com-
mittee efforts to coordinate a standard. Beyond these
time- related obstacles, conflict between two com-
mittees, PEPP- PT and DP- 3T, and varying support
of governments also contributed to a failure to set a
standard through the committee- based mode. This is
noteworthy, as these two committees were seen by
many to possess more legitimacy due to their wide
representation and were expected to raise fewer
concerns regarding data protection and privacy than
commercial actors.
Governments can impose newly developed or
existing standards by virtue of their hierarchical
position (Wiegmann et al., 2017). In the present case,
countries such as the UK and France developed their
own proprietary solutions, while other governments,
sometimes in addition to their own developments,
backed the emerging committees. Ultimately, the
involvement of governments was not substantial in
the setting of a common standard, as they were con-
strained by technical limitations and outpaced by
Apple and Google entering the process. Their role
on both national and supra- national levels became
crucial only once a standard had been set by platform
owners Apple and Google. Specifically, the EU and
national authorities then focused on linking individ-
ual apps to national health infrastructure and across
member states.
Prior literature on standard setting shows that
often standards are not set through a single mode,
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
12 R&D Management 2021
but through the interaction of multiple actors and
mechanisms (e.g., Blind, 2002; Townes, 2012). The
present case also highlights such avenues of collab-
oration and interplay between different modes. In
the initial phase, it was especially the interaction
between governments and the market, as individual
governments either pushed for their own solutions
or backed, mostly local, market players. The market-
based actors in some cases collaborated with the
emerging committees in order to gain insights and
affect the development of a standard. However, ulti-
mately these efforts at multi- mode standardization by
known actors (Table1) were not successful. Rather,
they were outpaced by the speed with which plat-
form owners Apple and Google collaborated on and
ultimately set a standard with the DP- 3T committee.
This immediately solved prior technical limitations
and resulted in a standard widely adopted by the var-
ious developers of contact- tracing apps throughout
When comparing the role Apple and Google
played in this process to ideal- typical actors (Table1),
they do not appear to fit in any of the established cat-
egories. As we show in Table5, as private companies
they align with the market- based mode of standard-
ization. Yet, in terms of the coordination mechanism,
the standard was neither reached through market
competition, nor through the consensus characteris-
tic of the committee- based mode. Rather the standard
was ‘forced’ upon the public and private developers
of contact- tracing apps by the platform owners. This
is highlighted by the example of Apple refusing to
accommodate the French government’s solution, and
making it clear that only the Apple/Google standard
can be used. This is clearly in line with how gov-
ernments are setting standards hierarchically. What
grants Apple and Google this power is their abso-
lute control over the platform. In this case, iOS and
Android jointly hold an almost 100% market share.
Within their platforms, the owners act as quasi-
governments. However, unlike the government- based
mode of standardization, inclusiveness in the stan-
dard setting process is low and there typically exist
no formal avenues of influence. The observed char-
acteristics of platform owners in the present case, as
well as their behavior in the standard- setting process,
clearly deviate from all actors and modes described
in the extant literature. This highlights that platform
owners should be seen as a distinct standardization
actor. Moreover, platform owner- based standardiza-
tion should be considered as a fourth major mode of
standardization. We also show that in this case multi-
mode standardization played a major role as the
platform owners cooperated with a committee, and
that especially in complex cases of standardizations,
a single mode of standardization is often not feasi-
ble. And while time pressure was not causal in the
ultimate success of platform owner- based standard-
ization, it was time pressure from the perspective of
epidemiological urgency during a public health cri-
sis with its ancillary negative socioeconomic effect
that was causal in the entry of Apple and Google to
the standardization process in the first place (Apple,
Table 5. Characteristics of a platform owner- based of mode of standardization
Platform owner- based
Relationships between actors
Coordination mechanism Solutions intended as a standard can come from various
sources. Coordination through platform owners using their
hierarchical position to impose these standards’ use on
Timing of coordination Coordination takes place at either or a combination of standard
development, diffusion, or when a standard has already been
developed by another party
Main actors driving the standardization process Predominantly private: Individual platform owners developing
standards and/or supporting and then enforcing their use
Avenues of influence Extremely limited, anti- trust laws and regulations
Inclusiveness in standard development Low, typically internal decision- making processes of platform
Authors’ own work, characteristics obtained from Wiegmann et al. (2017).
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Multi- mode standardization under extreme time- pressure
R&D Management 2021 13
6. Conclusion
6.1. Contributions
We investigated a unique case of standardization,
in which a technology with wide- reaching conse-
quences was developed, and a standard was set in the
extremely compressed timeframe of a few months.
This setting adds to the literature on standardiza-
tion, which typically has focused on cases with
longer timeframes (e.g., von Burg, 2001; Funk and
Methe, 2001; Blind, 2011). We show that under time
pressure, market- based standardization was not an
effective mode of standardization. And while prior
literature has indicated that in the given circum-
stances, committees with their inclusive develop-
ment process should have had major advantages in
terms of legitimacy (Tamm Hallström and Boström,
2010; Botzem and Dobusch, 2012), the present case
is atypical in that neither of the involved committees
was able to independently coordinate a standard.
We also contribute to recent literature on multi- mode
standardization (Wiegmann et al., 2017). Specifically,
we identified a case allowing for the observation of
numerous configurations of multi- mode standardiza-
tion in a single, time- compressed case. We highlight
the efforts and failures of these multi- mode attempts,
and point to the important role of platform owners in
the outcome of this standardization process. Platform
owners fall outside of the previously discussed actors
and modes of standardization, and represent a com-
pletely new category, that given their increasing preva-
lence, will rise in importance.
6.2. Policy implications
Concerning future crises, decision- makers in gov-
ernments must embrace technology as a central tool.
This technology should include mobile and wear-
able devices of citizens to leveraging ubiquitous and
pervasive computing resources. Our research shows
that, under time pressure, the market cannot solve
standardization- related issues. Hence, governments
must devise a policy for standard- setting for future
crisis situations. This policy should clarify the fol-
lowing questions: Who sets the standards? Which
parties are invited to provide technological solutions?
Whom does the government endorse and by which
process? Governments should embrace regional
exchanges on their standard- setting policies to ensure
mutual compatibility during crises. This is relevant
for single market entities, such as the EU, and other
regional blocs, such as the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations or the African Union. Regarding the
increasing importance of mobile operating platforms
in disaster and crisis response (Manso and Manso,
2013; Tan et al., 2017), our results should prompt
governments to involve platform owners as central
actors in the standardization process.
In the context of COVID- 19, the standardization of
technological responses remains crucial. For exam-
ple, electronic vaccination certificates, an important
tool in the post- vaccination phase of the pandemic,
pose standardization challenges analogous to contact
tracing apps (Marhold and Fell, 2021).
6.3. Limitations and directions for further
Our research is focused on time pressure during a
crisis acting on the involved entities and the coordi-
nation of a standard. Within the stream of standard-
ization literature, our case is atypical as it unfolded
in the course of only months, rather than years. We
expect future research to investigate other cases in
which the timeframe differs from established litera-
ture to provide additional insights into standard set-
ting in crises and other situations characterized by a
high level of time pressure. Beyond that, time and
temporal aspects provide a number of perspectives
for future research. For instance, the startups and
committees in our case study could be investigated
from the perspective of temporary organizing (see
Bakker et al., 2016). In this vein, we envision future
research addressing how the work of the diverse ad-
hoc organizations not part of the eventual Apple/
Google standard – likely in the tens of thousands of
staff hours – can be captured beyond these organiza-
tions’ eventual temporal demise for both future crisis
preparedness and utilization in analogous markets.
Given the nature of the crisis and response, some
of the insights may not be generalized. Unlike other
technologies, contact- tracing apps, as a software,
can be updated to accommodate new standards. To
generalize the results, we expect future research to
investigate the role of platform owners in the stan-
dardization process in various settings and from var-
ious perspectives, such as the avenues of influence
for the platform users and how this role could affect
innovation (Eaton, 2016).
Ethics statement
The present research has received approval through
an ethics review process by the University Senate
Research Committee at the first author’s institution
of affiliation. No conflicting interests were reported
by the authors.
© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
14 R&D Management 2021
The authors thank the editors and two anonymous
reviewers for their insightful and valuable sugges-
tions. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the
comments received from Nikolaus Franke, Peter
Keinz and Jyun- Cheng Wang on an earlier version of
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Klaus Marhold and Jan Fell
20 R&D Management 2021
1 We follow earlier examples (e.g., Grindley, 1995;
Srinivasan et al., 2006; Jain, 2012) and understand
that “standards” represent technical specifications for
quality, compatibility, and connectivity.  our case,
standards refer to the underlying protocols influenc-
ing and governing the detection and reporting of con-
tacts, and not the app- specific localized graphical user
2 Examples of major SDOs are the International
Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the
International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
3 10605 3030/https://
Klaus Marhold is Assistant Professor at the Institute
for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Vienna
University of Economics and Business. He obtained
his Ph.D. degree in Technology Management from
Seoul National University. His research focuses on
open innovation and entrepreneurship.
Jan Fell is a concurrently a Ph.D. candidate at the
Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at
Vienna University of Economics and Business, and
at the Institute of Service Science at National Tsing
Hua University.
Semi- structured interview outline (translated from
1. Please describe your role within Novid20 and
tell us about the organization.
2. Can you describe the initial process that led to the
decision to develop a Bluetooth- based contact-
tracing app?
3. In the beginning, were there any established
standards or other solutions that you could build
up on?
4. How did a lack of standards affect the develop-
ment of Novid20’s contact- tracing solution?
5. What is the current situation with respect to estab-
lished designs and standards for contact- tracing
6. How is Novid20 affected by standards and con-
sortia? Can you describe positive or negative
7. Within Austria, there is more than one organiza-
tion developing contact- tracing solutions. How
would you describe Novid20’s relationship to
other organizations developing and deploying
similar apps (e.g., the Red Cross in Austria)?
8. More recently, major tech firms Apple and Google
have entered the scene and are developing a ref-
erence solution. How does this affect Novid20,
and how was this news received within your
9. Are Apple and Google considered ‘competition’
or a useful complement to existing initiatives?
10. Can you tell us about the collaboration between
different initiatives in Europe?
Semi- structured interview outline for founding members
of DP- 3T
1. Please describe your role within DP- 3T and
tell us about the organization.
2. Can you describe the genesis of DP- 3T? How did
the various members and individuals involved
come together?
Dominant design and standards
3. Can you describe the process that led you to focus
on a Bluetooth- based standard? Why not a QR
code or phone- based location tracking?
4. Did you take any particular country’s solution as a
role model?
5. In the beginning, were there any existing formal
standards or de- facto standards that you could
build upon?
6. What is the current situation with respect to estab-
lished designs and standards for contact- tracing
apps? To what extent is the work of DP- 3T still
part of rolled- out solutions/solutions currently
under development?
7. How would you describe the roles of consortia
(such as DP- 3T) in the standard- setting process for
contact- tracing apps?
8. Do any other important actors in this process come
to your mind?
9. Can you tell us about the collaboration and/or com-
petition between different initiatives in Europe?
10. How do you perceive the role of European gov-
ernments and the European Union?
11. More recently, major tech firms Apple and Google
have entered the scene and developed a reference
solution. How did this affect DP- 3T, and how was
this news received within your organization?
12. Do you consider Apple and Google as ‘com-
petition’ or a useful complement to existing
... While the standardization of DCT (e.g., Marhold and Fell 2021) and especially the involvement of Google and Apple naturally attracted the attention of researchers from various disciplines (e.g., Michael and Abbas 2020;Sharon 2020;Storeng and de Bengy 2021;Lanzing et al. 2022), an extensive investigation based on both the standards and the platform literature addressing the above-mentioned questions and issues remains absent. However, we argue that because DCT apps rely on both software platforms and IT standards to enable their effective development and the exploitation of network effects, the case provides an avenue to advance the recent research stream that combines the aforementioned bodies of literature (e.g., Hein et al. 2019;Tessmann and Elbert 2022). ...
... Ultimately, the dependence in terms of decisions around governmental DCT apps grants Google and Apple increased influence in public health sectors of sovereign states (Sharon 2020). Hence, when health authorities accept the public-private partnership, the platform owners' quasi-governmental role becomes essentially legitimized (Leclercq-Vandelannoitte and Aroles 2020; Marhold and Fell 2021). Further, decentralized approaches such as the GAEN protocol are intended to address the risk of potential state surveillance (Fraunhofer AISEC 2020). ...
... Our results support their findings by showing that platform owners can coerce third-party complementors into using boundary resources that they might not have adopted without the powerful influence of the platform owners. Thus, in line with the findings of Marhold and Fell (2021), we support the notion of platform owners adopting a quasi-governmental role within their ecosystem. We add to this stream of literature by demonstrating that both innovation and transaction platforms jointly support this coercion power. ...
Full-text available
In response to the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic, various developers turned to smartphone-based contact tracing to address the challenges of manual tracing. Due to the presence of network effects, i.e., the effectiveness of contact tracing applications increases with the number of users, information technology standards were critical to the technology’s success. The standardization efforts in Europe led to a variety of trade-offs concerning the choice of an appropriate technological architecture due to the contradictory tensions resulting from the dualism between the need for contact tracing data to contain the pandemic and the need for data minimization to preserve user privacy. Drawing predominantly on the software platform and standards literature, we conduct an interpretive case study to examine the emergence and consequences of this multi-layered decision situation. Our findings reveal how Google and Apple were able to limit the individual leeway of external developers, thereby effectively resolving the European standards war. Furthermore, we identify and discuss the various short-term and long-term trade-offs associated with the standardization of contact tracing applications and translate our findings into recommendations for policy makers with respect to future crisis situations. Specifically, we propose a strategy grounded in our data that enables responsible actors to make goal-oriented and rapid decisions under time constraints.
Full-text available
Some of the recent developments in data science for worldwide disease control have involved research of large-scale feasibility and usefulness of digital contact tracing, user location tracking, and proximity detection on users’ mobile devices or wearables. A centralized solution relying on collecting and storing user traces and location information on a central server can provide more accurate and timely actions than a decentralized solution in combating viral outbreaks, such as COVID-19. However, centralized solutions are more prone to privacy breaches and privacy attacks by malevolent third parties than decentralized solutions, storing the information in a distributed manner among wireless networks. Thus, it is of timely relevance to identify and summarize the existing privacy-preserving solutions, focusing on decentralized methods, and analyzing them in the context of mobile device-based localization and tracking, contact tracing, and proximity detection. Wearables and other mobile Internet of Things devices are of particular interest in our study, as not only privacy, but also energy-efficiency, targets are becoming more and more critical to the end-users. This paper provides a comprehensive survey of user location-tracking, proximity-detection, and digital contact-tracing solutions in the literature from the past two decades, analyses their advantages and drawbacks concerning centralized and decentralized solutions, and presents the authors’ thoughts on future research directions in this timely research field.
Full-text available
At this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, two policy aims are imperative: avoiding the need for a general lockdown of the population, with all its economic, social and health costs, and preventing the healthcare system from being overwhelmed by the unchecked spread of infection. Achieving these two aims requires the consideration of unpalatable measures. Julian Savulescu and James Cameron argue that mandatory isolation of the elderly is justified under these circumstances, as they are at increased risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19, and are thus likely to put disproportionate strain on limited healthcare resources. However, their arguments for this strategy are contingent on the lack of viable alternatives. We suggest that there is a possible alternative: a mandatory, centralised contact-tracing app. We argue that this strategy is ethically preferable to the selective isolation of the elderly, because it does not target members of a certain group, relying instead on the movements of each individual, and because it avoids the extended isolation of certain members of the society. Although this type of contact-tracing app has its drawbacks, we contend that this measure warrants serious consideration.
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Contact Tracing is considered as the first and the most effective step towards containing an outbreak, as resources for mass testing and large quantity of vaccines are highly unlikely available for immediate utilization. Effective contact tracing can allow societies to reopen from lock-down even before availability of vaccines. The objective of mobile contact tracing is to speed up the manual interview based contact tracing process for containing an outbreak efficiently and quickly. In this article, we throw light on some of the issues and challenges pertaining to the adoption of mobile contact tracing solutions for fighting COVID-19. In essence, we proposed an Evaluation framework for mobile contact tracing solutions to determine their usability, feasibility, scalability and effectiveness. We evaluate some of the already proposed contact tracing solutions in light of our proposed framework. Furthermore, we present possible attacks that can be launched against contact tracing solutions along with their necessary countermeasures to thwart any possibility of such attacks.