Want to know which US states nailed social distancing today? Just check the Social Distancing Scoreboard, which grades them according to how diligent their population are with staying home. Meanwhile, a video capturing the movements of Florida spring break partygoers has gone viral; it shows 'the true impact of ignoring social distancing', says Tectonix, the company that produced it.
Such findings could potentially help save lives in the current pandemic, but there's concern about how they were produced: by analysing anonymised location data from smartphones, collected without real consent from their users. This comes as more governments are ramping up efforts to track and monitor behaviour to fight coronavirus. The UK's privacy watchdog has now OKed the government's use of phone data for this purpose, while the US government's already planning its epidemic response using location data from mobile ad companies (£). Once again, collected without users' explicit consent.
As more COVID-19 tracking and screening tech become available (like this much-downloaded symptom tracker app) the conversation is now moving on from the privacy-vs-public-health debate towards surveillance profiteering. It's inevitable that companies will capitalise on the current situation to push anything from fever-detecting AI thermal cameras to location intelligence platforms like the Social Distancing Scoreboard. But are they doing so ethically, with responsibly-sourced data?
Infrastructure for the surveillance economy is already in place, leeching everyday data from us to sell us things. So why not use it to save lives; even privacy activists are calling for it. But we can take it a step further, like what the Hack from Home hackathon is doing: find ways for people to contribute their data to fight the impact of COVID-19, rather than having it taken by opportunistic app makers.
Together, let's turn around dodgy data practices and find solutions to this pandemic.
Yours in HAT,