Technology such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype is enabling people to work from home and to keep in touch with colleagues, clients and customers. Digital technology is also helping health and public authorities to fight the spread of coronavirus. Similarly, mobile data is keeping people in the loop and helping epidemiologists and others track the progress of the disease and forecast its spread.
Epidemiologist Prof Caroline Buckee at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and her team have used cell phone pings from towers to track people’s movements in disease hotspots and predict where a cluster of infection might appear next. However, critics warn that technology may also be used in more sinister ways. More worrying to some critics is that facial recognition technology is allowing authorities in some countries to identify those breaking curfews by going out of the house during lockdowns.
European governments are using mobile phones in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Belgian authorities monitored movement restrictions to determine if the spread of the virus was slowed down. Authorities shelved plans for tighter confinement rules when providers’ data showed that Belgians were spending about 80% of their time within their regions and mostly adhering to shelter-at-home orders. Belgian Telecom Minister Philippe De Backer said. “Aggregated mobility data helps us make more balanced decisions. It has helped us decide to continue the confinement measures, rather than becoming too strict.”
Privacy concerns were raised when countries such as Austria and Germany indicated that they would use mobile data to keep the virus in check after easing lockdowns. While Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google tracking software voluntarily alert users if they encounter an infected person, mobile phone providers typically need access to estimate a subscriber’s location via the nearest cell tower.