According to sources from The Washington Post, major tech companies are in talks with the US government to use location data to stop the spread of the corona virus COVID-19.
Such measures would have clear benefits in terms of controlling the spread of the virus, but at the same time would set a precedent in terms of privacy. The data would be anonymised, so these concerns have already been considered. However, despite good intentions, it is always better to be extra cautious about attempts to collect large amounts of personal data. In times of crisis, it is just a little easier to give up certain personal freedoms.
However, the dry fact that location data from smartphones can help enormously in detecting and mapping the general spread of the infection could save lives. We’ve already written about cooperation between some tech companies on the coronavirus pandemic.
Possibilities outside the US
The White House has already consulted with technology companies about the virus and American policy, including through a meeting involving Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. Amazon director Jeff Bezos has also been in regular contact with the US government, as his company’s activities affect how people deal with social distance and quarantine guidelines.
The question now is whether this type approach could be used in Europe as well, partly because the largest companies on the list above also have a large sphere of influence in regions outside the US. Location data could, therefore, also be used as a tool against the virus in the EU.