Usage of tracking technology and immunity passports in global pandemic
New research suggests the majority of people in the UK are willing to use privacy-encroaching tracking technology and support the introduction of ‘immunity passports’ to protect themselves and others in the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found more than two-thirds of respondents overall would accept some form of smartphone tracking app to help manage social distancing and the relaxation of a full public lockdown. However, its findings are not reflected in the number of people who have downloaded the NHS Test and Trace app, prompting calls for this issue to be addressed.
The research comprised two online surveys with more than 3,500 respondents in total, the first carried out in March 2020 and the second in April 2020, when COVID-19 case numbers had reached nearly 100,000 and resulted in almost 15,000 deaths. The NHS Test and Trace app, a decentralised tool relying on Google/Apple Bluetooth technology, was later introduced in September 2020.
Both surveys presented at least two scenarios – an app, using smartphone tracking data to identify and contact those who may have been exposed to people with COVID-19, which people can choose to download. The second scenario proposed this app was compulsory for all mobile phone users and enabled the Government to use the data to locate anyone violating lockdown orders and enforce them with fines and arrests.
In both surveys, the levels of acceptance for each scenario were broadly the same. Around 70 per cent of respondents accepted the opt-in app and almost two thirds, some 65 per cent overall, accepted the mandatory version with tighter enforcement. When a sunset clause was introduced, resulting in all data being deleted after two weeks, acceptance levels of both scenarios rose to more than 75 per cent. Acceptance increased further still to more than 85 per cent when, on top of the time limit, an opt-out clause was provided.