COVID-19 Update

Government Wants Big Tech to Help Quell Coronavirus Spread Through Location Tracking

Reports say government’s efforts to use location tracking to follow spread of COVID-19 isn’t about building federal database, but I have my doubts.

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Government Wants Big Tech to Help Quell Coronavirus Spread Through Location Tracking

The beauty of technology and the advancements it’s made in a time when the coronavirus continues to spread around the world is that it allows companies to have their staffs work from home for a while and not miss a beat in terms of their productivity.

The downside of technology and the advancements it’s made in times like this is it allows the potential for the biggest players to stretch the limits of their technology’s capabilities and allow it to do things it can, but it’s questionable if it should.

The latest example of that is the TechCrunch report that government leaders are in talks with big tech companies including Google and Facebook—despite Mark Zuckerberg’s denials—about using those company’s location data access to determine where people are waiting out coronavirus spread.

Here’s more from the TechCrunch report, which relied on information from The Washington Post:

Location data taken from the smartphones of Americans could help public health experts track and map the general spread of the infection, the group has theorized, though of course the prospect of any kind of location tracking is bound to leave people uncomfortable, especially when it’s done at scale and involves not only private companies with which they have a business relationship, but also the government.

These efforts, however, would be strictly aimed at helping organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) get an overview of patterns, decoupled from any individual user identity.

The Post’s sources stress that this would not involve the generation of any kind of government database, and would instead focus on anodized, aggregated data to inform modeling of the COVID-19 transmission and spread.

According to this report, it sounds harmless enough, but color me cynical, although I don’t think we’ll get to the point where Hong Kong is, using electronic wristbands to track people’s movements–or at least I hope we won’t.

Then again, I’m the type who always turns off anything on any device I own that tracks my activity when I first get it. That doesn’t stop me from getting targeted ads when I talk about a product though, so clearly something is going on.

I’m all for controlling coronavirus spread, but I feel like the medical and technology community has enough smart people within it that we don’t have to be unwittingly checking in to flatten the curve and bring our lives back to the new normal.

CoronaVirus Update