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How are you tracking on the data debate?

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

Are people putting their physical freedom above their privacy as their willingness to share data increases?

Although Australian people have previously had issues sharing private information with government (remember ‘My Health’), the reception to the COVIDsafe app has been different. The COVIDsafe app was released on Sunday evening and, as of 6am on Monday 27th of April, has been downloaded by more than 1.13 million Australians. In other words, it took five hours for Australians to download the COVIDSafe app at a rate the Government expected would take five days. This could be due to the government suggesting that restrictions could be lifted if a contact tracing app is adopted by the population. According to a recent report by The Lab & Nature, people are willing to download the app as it will help prevent the spread, and it could allow people to go back to work and boost the economy.

Australian trust in the government has also increased which could be due to the government’s response to the virus, which has been positively received broadly by the Australian public. Which may mean that people will trust the app as they have trusted the response so far.

We are to believe that: only minimal data will be collected and your location will not be tracked, just who you came into close contact with. Your personal information will only be utilised to contact you if you have into close contact to an infected person. The government has also announced that all data will then be automatically deleted after 21 days. Recently the government has further alleviated concerns by making the source code accessible to the public, for greater transparency. The question remains, will the government, or others who manage to access this data misuse it in future?

Tracking might work but it also has side effects. South Korea developed these tools to fight the 2015 MERs epidemic and continued to use them to fight COVID-19. One of their tactics was contact tracing - using a mixture of CCTV footage, phone location data and credit card records to monitor people’s movements and trace any contact to an active virus case. They have managed to flatten the curve early but many are saying that the alerts provided to others are too revealing and make it easy for people to shame the sick or the perceived spreaders: “South Koreans now dread stigma as much as they fear the virus itself”.

So, what does this mean for data sharing in the future? Will the current environment lead to an increase in willingness to share data? Will this willingness extend to entities outside of government if the reward seems worthwhile?

Sylvia Jahn

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