Bookmarked COVID-19 highlights the pros and cons of digital tracking (Lens: Pioneering research stories, commentary and opinion told by leading academics – Monash University)

What levels of autonomy, freedom and privacy are we happy to give away through the increased use of our devices? What potential forms of population control might be enforced on the back of the mass adoption of new technologies? How comfortable would we be with fitness trackers that relay our biometric results to authorities to track our health? Would we welcome spaces that automatically restrict our access to work, home, or transportation, based on passively collected data about our movements, our online activity, and our social contacts?

If these are seen to be future viable forms of societal management, then serious questions first need to be asked about potential biases and errors in the algorithms that make all this possible, as well how to counter the likely new forms of exclusion visited upon the large minorities of people who are not connected.

Digital technology might well play an important part in the immediate management of this current emergency. Once the virus has subsided, then more lasting questions remain.

Mark Andrejevic and Neil Selwyn discuss the use of smartphone data and apps in managing the coronavirus pandemic. The two autheors question how much freedom will we sacrifice through this crisis?

This is also a topic that John Naughton picks up in the Guardian:

One thing that does appear to be happening in China, however, is deployment of the state’s surveillance capabilities. At the heart of the project is the ubiquity of smartphones. According to the New York Times, citizens are now being required to install an app on their phones that dictates whether they should be quarantined or allowed into subways, malls and other public spaces. People sign up for the “Alipay health code” and are assigned a colour code – green, yellow or red – that indicates their health status. A green code enables its holder to move about unrestricted. Someone with a yellow code may be asked to stay at home for seven days. Red means a two-week quarantine.


On the back of Permanent Record, Edward Snowden reflects on some of the problems with smartphones, including the listening and tracking:

My point is not that you should use a smartphone like me, but that you *shouldn’t have to*. Privacy should not be a privilege, but because the legal system is broken, the average person today stands, at every stage of life, naked before the eyes of corporations and governments.

This system of predation has survived for so long because it occurs under the illusion of consent, but you were never asked your opinion in a way that could change the outcome. On the most consequential redistribution of power in modern life, you were never granted a vote.

The lie is that everything happening today is okay because ten years ago, you clicked a button that said “I agree.” But you didn’t agree to the 600 page contract: none of us read it. You were agreeing you needed a job; agreeing you needed directions, email, or even just a friend.

It wasn’t a choice, but the illusion of it. The consent you granted was never meaningful, because you never had an alternative. You clicked the button, or you lost the job. You clicked the button, or you were left behind. And the consequences were hidden for ten years.

I like Snowden’s point about consent. This was a part of my concern with mobile devices, although I did not capture it that well.

via Sebastian Greger