Nations around the world are rapidly widening their tactics to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
For many, the pleas to stay home and distant from others haven’t done enough. The worsening pandemic has some officials looking at a more invasive but powerful tool to flatten the curve — people’s phones.
While not the “Canadian way,” using personal data to track populations is not out of the question for Canada, said Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto.
“But you can’t deal with a problem you don’t fully understand — tech or not. Until we have solid baseline data, these things may not be as useful as they sound.”
Poland is the latest country to take on such measures.
The government released an app that requires people in quarantine or self-isolation over COVID-19 to periodically send selfies of themselves to prove they’re following the orders. The Home Quarantine app will send users an alert requesting a geo-located photo of themselves. If they don’t send the photo within 20 minutes, police will be notified and people can be subject to fines.
The U.K. isn’t far behind. British health officials are exploring the idea of using location-tracking technology for contact tracing.
A study out of the University of Oxford, published in the journal Science, has recommended the government use an app to track the GPS locations of phone users, allowing them to report if they start feeling ill and, if tested positive for the virus, ultimately alert everyone they had recently had close contact with.
Both Poland and the British researchers say the apps aren’t solely for tracking — or punishment — but can also help connect people to health and social services.
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Either way, “that would never be compatible with Canadian society,” said Bowman.
“These things become very George Orwell, 1984. It’s remarkably similar in that way. We worry that this pandemic would be the thin edge of the wedge to introduce these types of things. That is a concern.”