Is my privacy worth more than your health?

I am writing this in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At present, there are more than 1 million known cases of infection and the death toll has passed 64,000.

There are some faint glimmers of hope with some countries recording a slowdown in the rate of infection.

While there are going to be some very difficult days/weeks/months ahead.

Once we get to the other side, many things will have changed and will change further.

One aspect I think we will need to consider is our approach to privacy and how we balance this with the need for protecting people’s health.

Technology assists with better understanding and monitoring the spread of diseases.

Contact tracing is a term that few of us had heard a few weeks ago.

Now it’s one of the main tools for reducing the exponential growth of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is the process of identifying, diagnosing and treating people that have come into contact with known cases of a disease.

In other words, health authorities will try to find all the people that you, positive case of COVID-19, have been in contact recently.

They will try to get in touch with them, tell them of the risk they might have been exposed to, potentially test them for this type of coronavirus and advise them on their self-isolation obligations.

The clearer the picture of who might have been exposed, the better chances of containing the spread.

Remembering everything you have done over the last, for instance, 14 days requires a good memory.

In my case, as memory is not my greatest asset, I would be relying on the Google Maps app and the fact that I have location tracking always on.

By letting authorities know where I have been, I would be hoping they would have a better chance to identify who was there at the same time as me.

As an example of technology assisting further, authorities in Singapore have launched TraceTogether.

This mobile app uses bluetooth to track other users of the app that have come in close contact with you.

The use of the app and the sharing of data by the user is voluntary.

The ‘lifespan’ of the app is closely linked to the length of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Once the latter is over, the app will stop working.

Privacy concerns are addressed by the Singapore government as follows:

  • the app does not track location or contacts
  • data is stored for only 21 days and will not be accessed unless you have been identified as a close contact
  • your mobile phone number is paired with a random ID and only the random ID is exchanged between users’ phones

Some of us might be skeptical of privacy guarantees made by governments, authorities and tech companies.

Many have been burned once too many times by placing their trust in these institutions.

There are also a large variety of individual stances with regards to technology and privacy.

I have many friends whose opinion I value very much that are much more concerned than myself when it comes to the balance between privacy and the benefit of technology.

Bottom line is, each one of us will have to answer the question: is my privacy worth more than your health?

Culture will also play a huge part on the shifting, or otherwise, of attitudes.

The magnitude of loss of life and the emotional, psychological, economic impact of COVID-19 will determine how we, humanity, will want to manage this issue in the future.

I think that some loss of privacy for the greater good will be inevitable.

How much only time will tell.