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Governments Newest Weapon Against The Coronavirus: Your Phone


Data that used to serve you ads are now used to fight the disease

As governments around the world enforce quarantine measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, they’re slowly turning to the same technology that serves you ads on your smartphones.

Anonymized data from smartphones that are sent to advertisers is now being analyzed by government health services in Europe, the US and several other countries including Asia to allow decision-makers to see and model where people are, and where people congregate to identify possible hotspots of community transmission. Once their locations are properly mapped, they can then be isolated and quarantined to prevent the spread of the virus.

There’s concern that the use of the data could be a use of privacy, but extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, though many privacy advocates are wary of the new measures governments are taking to combat the spread of the virus. The European Commission, for its part, says that the data would be kept only as long as the crisis is ongoing, and will ensure the respect of the ePrivacy Directive and the GDPR.

Countries like Singapore which have earned praise for its response to the coronavirus is going a step further and have rolled out an app called TraceTogether that uses a phone’s Bluetooth signal to record interactions with other phones for up to 21 days. If a person with the app is diagnosed with the coronavirus, the app will allow Singapore’s health ministry to find who that person interacted with. Singapore has made the app widely available to developers worldwide.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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