COVID-19: Exit through the App store

  • Date

    Tue 21 Apr 20

Professor Peter Fussey

An Essex academic has contributed to a rapid evidence review on the technical considerations and societal implications of using technology to move out of the current COVID-19 crisis.

Professor Peter Fussey, from the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex and Co-Director of the ESRC funded Human Rights, Big Data and Technology (HRBDT) project, was one of more than 20 experts who inputted into the review, authored by the Ada Lovelace Institute.

The experts were drawn from a wide range of areas including technology, policy, human rights and data protection, public health and clinical medicine, behavioural science and information systems, philosophy, sociology and anthropology.

Speaking about the review, Professor Fussey said: "Digital solutions such as contact tracing, symptom tracking and immunity certification have been widely feted as a means to exit the current COVID-19 lockdown.

“Yet it is crucial that such technologies are used responsibly in a way that protects rights and avoids creating new inequalities and vulnerabilities.

“The Ada Lovelace Institute is at the forefront of many important debates over the role of technology in society and it was fantastic to bring some ideas generated through our HRBDT project into the conversation."

The review focuses on digital contact tracing, symptom tracking apps and immunity certification. Its key findings and recommendations include the following:

  • There is currently an absence of evidence to support the immediate national deployment of symptom tracking applications, digital contact tracing applications and digital immunity certificates.
  • Public trust and confidence could be strengthened through the establishment of a new Group of Advisors on Technology in Emergencies (GATE) to advise on design and implementation of any new technology.
  • There should also be an independent oversight mechanism to conduct real-time scrutiny of any resulting policies.
  • Focus should be on developing a comprehensive strategy around immunity that considers the societal implications of any immunity certification regime, of which, full and robust parliamentary scrutiny will be crucial.
  • Technical design choices should account for members of the population who are digitally excluded because of their age, disability, vulnerability, device ownership or digital literacy.
  • Premature deployment of ineffective apps could undermine public trust and confidence, which may hamper the long-term success of such tracking technologies.
  • Read the full review summary at the Ada Lovelace Institute.

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