What’s more important: privacy or public health? It’s one of the biggest questions society has faced since the advent of technology, and the coronavirus pandemic is forcing all of us to consider a solid—and immediate answer.
Already, tech giant Google has been gathering location data from users to create COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports that offer anonymized data regarding whether we (as in, all of the people in 131 countries and all 50 U.S. states) are socially distancing and staying home to prevent the spread of coronavirus. At the same time, Facebook—a company that’s already proven to have a spotty track record when it comes to user privacy—is working to create its open reports about how well users are doing at sheltering in place. And now, both Google and Apple are working together to help authorities trace exposure of COVID-19 through Bluetooth. The technology enables contact tracing, which will identify people who have been exposed to the virus and those they’ve been in contact with. Feeling a little nervous about technology’s intrusion into the public health space? It’s understandable. And while this partnership was announced and well-covered over the past week or so, I wanted to spend some time to think critically and reflect on the impact of such partnerships and the important implications on privacy. The following are a few pros and cons of using AI and data capture in the name of public health.