It’s the first epidemic of the smartphone era – and that means governments have approach to new ways of following the spread of Covid-19.
We discovered about the apps that are checking people with the virus and look at whether they present a long-term threat to civil liberties.
In South Korea, the authorities have developed an app that lets them know whether people who should be in quarantine have violated the rules. In China, the Health Code app, made by the Chinese government and hotted on e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Alipay platform, allows users know if they are permitted to leave home or use public transport. However, according to analysis by the New York Times, signing up to the apps can mean giving over data about your location and identity to the police.
Investigators at Australia’s Monash University have been looking at how countries are using tech to handle the virus.
“This is the first pandemic you can reach with your smartphone,” said Prof Mark Andrejevic. “And also the one in which smartphones are being used to trace people and observe them and control their movements.”
No doubt, what we often fail to realize is that our smartphones and the services on them have been trailing us for years anyway.
If you are logged in to Google Maps, it may well have a whole record of everywhere you have been for years. If you use an iPhone and store your photos in the cloud, Apple will also have quite a record of your movements and who you have communicated with.
But in some countries, governments have always wanted to get access to this kind of data – and now they have grabbed their chance.
In South Korea, they have gone one step ahead than China in obtaining detailed information about people’s movements during this health crisis. Their app informs users about people near them who have been sick, and where they have been.
And that has privacy consequences – although the information is anonymized it may not be too hard for either app users or the police to work out precisely who each blinking dot on the map turns out to be.