Using Smartphones to Gauge Social Distancing Raises Privacy Concerns

by Kevin Bessler


Some governments are using smartphone tracking to make sure people are following social distancing rules in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Google announced it will use its massive collection of mobile location data to measure how closely people across the globe are following government directives to remain at home.

These tracking capabilities have raised privacy questions, including how much of personal information are Americans willing to give up for community health?

Dr. David Gunkel, a communications professor at Northern Illinois University, said contact tracing has been done in the past.

“We did contact tracing with Ebola and AIDS, but in those cases, the contact tracing was done manually,” he said. “Obviously with the COVID-19 infection, the rate of its proliferation is so much more rapid that manual contact tracing is rather impractical and inefficient.”

Regarding the privacy issue, Gunkel said there is a right way and a wrong way.

“If you centralize the data, then you are talking about a very difficult circumstance in regards to privacy protection,” Gunkel said.

Gunkel said processing the data on a person’s handheld device would be responsive to privacy concerns.

Gunkel said participation would key to whether smartphone tracking would be effective in containing COIVD-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in late 2019.

“We have to be very transparent about it,” Gunkel said. “We have to communicate directly to users what is at stake, why it might be important, what they should be concerned about, and what they can do in regards to that.”

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Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for The Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.
Photo “People on Their Phones” by Rawpixel. CC BY 2.0.







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One Thought to “Using Smartphones to Gauge Social Distancing Raises Privacy Concerns”

  1. 83ragtop50

    If you believe that your privacy would be protected then I have bridge in New York that I would like to sell you.