Contact Tracing & Consumer Privacy

We’re living in a world where Apps are slowly taking over our everyday lives. Activities once long and time consuming have become as simple as a click and swipe. So we shouldn’t really be surprised that there’s an App to keep track of COVID-19. However, due to the novelty of this virus, many are questioning how moral the use of these Apps are and how they’ll impact consumer privacy online.

The creation of the ‘Contact Tracing’ App serves as a regulator for countries to go forward with re-opening strategies. The App poses serious consumer privacy concerns, however, because it allows those carrying the virus to be ‘exposed’. We want to discuss how this digital tool may or may not be the answer to the re-opening of global communities:

consumer privacy online

How Does the Contact Tracing App Work?

Individuals can download a contact tracing App like they would any other App. These types of Apps helps users keep track of COVID-19 exposure by alerting them that they’ve come into contact with other users who are positive. It only works if users who are positive upload the information onto their App. It uses GPS or Bluetooth data to record when users have been close to each other long enough for virus transmission.

Different countries have different names for their tracing Apps; however, they all work in the same way. Singapore, with its TraceTogether App, was an early pioneer of digital contact tracing. Many other countries, including Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom, are working to implement these Apps rapidly.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals who contracted the virus had and still have a right to anonymity. We have seen how one’s health status can often cause discrimination or unfair treatment. The question remains whether contact tracing Apps will adhere to necessary online privacy regulations.

Why Consumer Privacy is a Concern?

Tech giants such as Microsoft, Apple and Google are moving quickly to build application programming interfaces behind contact tracing Apps. A rare partnering between Apple and Google on this project has also raised questions concerning cybersecurity rights. How can users be sure that their personal data will strictly aid the fight against the spread of COVID-19?

The current issue seems to be that the use of Bluetooth technology will identify the users individually. A user with limited contacts, for example, can easily identify the infected person based on their interactions. The technology runs the risk of exposing someone as COVID-19 positive. When maintaining user’s anonymity is the point of the App, this all seems quite contradictory.

Many could argue that with most digital tools, people often give out their personal information. We fill in things like our home addresses and phone numbers on websites without a second thought. The point is that we’re not always sure of where our data is going, but we give it out anyway. So what makes tracing any Apps different? Well, we think it’s because of the stigma surrounding certain health conditions. And because COVID-19 is highly contagious and in extreme cases, deadly, those exposed for contracting it will face discrimination.

The Human Element

As technologically advanced as we are, humans are still emotionally-inclined. No App in the world can actually change our emotional responses. Not yet, anyway. Years ago, when HIV was an unknown and ‘deadly’ virus, those who were positive were outcasts of society. And not by choice, but by being discriminated against. We’re not in any way comparing these two sicknesses, but the human responses and how it impacts our society.

Although humans have access to a lot more information than before, their health status still profoundly impacts how society treats them. It’s safe to say that the biggest reason for privacy concerns is the predictable nature of human beings. We are still a society that discriminates before educating ourselves, despite our newly unlimited opportunities to learn.

If contact tracing Apps are not carefully regulated, it could be the beginning of a new type of exclusion. Because users download and give out information voluntarily, it means they want to contribute to fighting against COVID-19. Whether they are infected or not. App development teams should then be focused on protecting user information at all costs.

To Trace or not to Trace?

The urgency for secure privacy regulations for contact tracing Apps is because the Apps collect data concerning people’s health statuses. The digital evolution has perhaps made people okay with giving out personal information like their maiden names. However, we still aren’t entirely comfortable when it comes to our health records.

The world is persistent in re-opening its communities and economies. Although contact tracing Apps is a modernised solution to re-opening strategies, it may be the cause of a new issue. We find that as people’s needs change, so do law and regulations. However, consumer privacy does not seem to be a regulation that humans are ready to compromise.

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