In which I read up on location tracking for stopping the spread of coronavirus. I also wrote a longer-form piece on one proposal, Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing.

Europe Tracks Residents’ Phones for Coronavirus Research

Author: Catherine Stupp (@ The Wall Street Journal)

A number of cell carriers in Europe have started sharing (supposedly anonymized) location data with national governments to help assess how much people are moving around. I’m curious about this anonymization, because weakly anonymized location data can often still be traced to individuals.

Poland, meanwhile, has a “home quarantine” app that requires (!) users to upload photos of themselves several times a day to prove they are at home. I guess—yeah, if you’re mandated to stay at home, that’s preferable to police visits or something. But ouch.

I wonder about the utility of something like this—to what extent is this data useful to governments? Is it just to understand the extent to which people are complying with the stay-at-home order? Is it actionable? Does it provide information that you couldn’t get by, say, having police survey public spaces? And while I’m not specifically worried about this instance (cell carriers are always going to have my location), the sharing of location data with governments makes me uneasy.s

The Technology 202: We asked more than 100 tech experts if U.S. should use location data to track coronavirus. They were split.

Author: Cat Zakrzewski (@ The Washington Post)

Of their standing panel of experts, 51% said the US should not adopt digital surveillance, and 49% said they should. The article presents a number of arguments on both sides of the debate.

Some argue that there isn’t enough evidence that phone location is effective, and that other responses should be explored first. This is the most compelling argument for me. What good is individual-level data in the absence of widespread, accessible testing to actually determine who has the virus? The real value from this data is from understanding who may have come in contact with an infected person, and who needs to stay home; a lack of testing undermines those goals.

I also strongly distrust the US government, and do not believe it acts in my own best interests nor the best interests of the average person. The US government expanded its surveillance powers after 9/11, and I worry that the same will happen here.

This was a great summary of the different sides of this debate. I may be looking into this “Technology 202” series by Washington Post further.