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Virus-Tracing Apps Are Rife With Problems. Governments Are Rushing to Fix Them.

  • July 08, 2020

Governments around the world have rolled out several dozen virus-tracing apps this year, he noted. “But, of course, doing so in a rushed manner, and doing so without proper considerations and the proper design and oversight,” he said, could “jeopardize these efforts.”

Epidemiologists have said virus control apps may be helpful additions to public health efforts, especially in countries like South Korea, which has the national medical infrastructure to do mass-scale testing and isolate people who test positive.

But digital rights groups say some governments are using apps largely as performative gestures — to demonstrate to the public that they are taking some kind of concrete action against the virus.

“Digital contact-tracing — the idea that there’s an app for that — is a very hopeful concept,” said Carly Kind, a human rights lawyer who is the director of the Ada Lovelace Institute, an artificial intelligence ethics research center in London. “I think governments want it to be true,” she added, but often the efforts seem like little more than “do-something-itis.”

Governments in Asia, in Europe and elsewhere have turned to mobile phones and apps during the pandemic for a variety of purposes, including analyzing smartphone location data from mobile providers to assess residents’ compliance with lockdowns. But tracking apps, which some countries are using to notify people of possible coronavirus exposure or to enforce government quarantine orders, have come under heightened scrutiny. That is because some of the apps continuously collect details about users’ health, precise locations and social interactions, increasing the privacy and security risks.

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