How privacy tech can help beat COVID-19
As various approaches are proposed and tested for tracing the spread of the virus, how can we lower risks without demolishing privacy?
COVID-19 has led to more than a million deaths globally, and the hospitalisation and intensive care of many more. The effects of this virus are far-reaching, and it is a major public health crisis.
As scientists scramble to learn more about, and create vaccines to prevent, COVID-19, contact tracing is one of the measures deployed by governments globally to reduce transmission rates. This means identifying and following up with those who have been exposed to the disease, asking them to take additional precautions to prevent further transmission.
4 in 10 people are worried about contact tracing
Contact tracing can only be successful with mass adoption: privacy fears could represent a roadblock in that respect. According to Kantar research from June, 4 in 10 people in the UK say they would be fairly or very unlikely to use the planned NHS contact tracing app:
49% are concerned about privacy
35% don’t want the government to track their location
29% don’t think the app will help to slow the spread of coronavirus
Latest figures for the new UK contact tracing app suggest 10 million people, or 17% of the population, have taken the plunge. Privacy concerns (and incompatible technology) could be a barrier.
Is collecting personal data really necessary?
Understanding where people have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus, and informing them of this, does not have to involve taking or storing identifying information. The Moai solution lets you trace your exposure without ever asking who you are; businesses generate unique QR codes without providing any location information.
This isn’t just about a more efficient way to collect data. This is about respecting that people do not want companies, apps, or a government, to know where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing. And if people feel they are being watched, they are less likely to use contact tracing technology. Without adoption, the effectiveness of contact tracing rapidly declines.
Supporting anonymised research
Another challenge with contact tracing lies in keeping personal data secure while being able to carry out crucial research to better understand how the disease spreads. Some approaches to secure contact tracing mean that the data cannot be analysed by researchers. Moai encrypts data at all times using secure hardware and privacy-preserving algorithms; the technology allows academic research to be undertaken on the data, without any personal information being exposed.