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With almost everything imaginable turned into a mobile application accessible by smartphone users, it’s no surprise that tech companies are constantly innovating and introducing new products and services that cater to the growing demand for life online.

Education, health provision, e-commerce, food delivery, banking and financial services, dating, gaming and entertainment (to name just a few) have all been providing their services through mobile apps, driven in no small part by the pandemic lockdowns throughout the year to date.

The healthcare sector has been a late adopter of this trend in comparison to other sectors. That said, the industry has witnessed tech giants such as Apple and Samsung designing tech products and apps aimed at collecting health data from relatively early on, which poses both opportunities and risks to public health and civil liberty. 

Applications such as Apple’s Health app, collects data about users ranging from age and weight to heart conditions and medication. Not only that, but today tech giants like Apple are playing a role in the fight against COVID-19 with the creation of an automated screening tool and an app with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency that identifies whether the user is displaying COVID-19 symptoms and alerting them to get in touch with someone for testing. Similarly, in the UK the National Health Services (NHS) has launched a COVID-19 contact-tracing mobile app that (like similar apps launched in some Asian countries) identifies and notifies people who have been in close proximity to a confirmed case.

Such adoption of technology raises a series of questions such as: How effective are mobile apps in the fight against COVID-19? How is the data collected by these apps used and shared? Additionally, how far can the demand for such pandemic-centered tech push companies to innovate and public agencies to adopt? And can such innovations be used as a model for future products, balancing the need for privacy against the need for big data?

Our Board Member Heather Morgan has been looking at some of these questions in her work, and we are working across the Think Tank (in our AI programme, Human Rights programme and this programme) to track these developments. If you are interested in collaborating on a project in this area, please get in touch!

This article was published outside of GRN Think Tank. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

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Saghir, Wael

Saghir, Wael

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