Covid-19 and Privacy Laws

Fahd Shah
July 24th, 2020

Data and information privacy is a growing concern to many people around the globe. Data tracking and information gathering has become an industry on its own over the past couple of years, and many companies have gotten access to certain data and have profited greatly from it. Data companies are becoming increasingly wealthier and larger, as there are many companies willing to pay for valuable data to enhance their own products/services. The most common form of data and information tracking can be seen through targeted advertisements. Whether these be targeted ads on someones facebook, twitter, instagram, or even certain emails received in the spam folder. Privacy is becoming the top issue for a vast majority of people regarding technology.

The most notorious instance of information and data mining is the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal that came to light in 2018. This scandal was widely spread and caught the attention of many due to data and information being harvested to push political agendas and campaigns. Cambridge Analytica was a political consulting company that used data and information harvesting to push targeted ads and campaigns to influence electoral processes, especially in the 2016 US presidential election. Cambridge Analytica was able to get access to certain facebook games/applications and any user that used to share information with these was essentially giving up their information and network to Cambridge Analytica. These user profiles were a gateway to gain information of their entire friend network on facebook, essentially gathering millions of profiles and information. This was used to analyze based on post shares, likes and comments on where a certain individual stood politically. Once all information was gathered, targeted ads were pushed out using micro-targeting techniques and using attractive wording to the certain individual. This was essentially to persuade swing voters.

Many people fear the same sort of controversy and scandal coming out of data and information tracking of covid-19. For example, location tracking on phones now giving a “Covid-19” tracking option, or policy talks of a tracking application to ensure movement and whereabouts of people. Due to recent scandals and people getting a sense of violation of their privacy, especially through targeted ads. The reaction and public response to tracking and data gathering to stop the spread of Covid-19 is not well received. There have been various talks of policy makers and possible policies being implemented that utilizes data tracking, however many people are skeptical of mandatory participation in this. Many big technology companies such as Facebook and Google are in talks with governments about a possible tracking solution, however, people are fearful of how the information can be utilized besides tracking covid, as data leaks are plausible. Furthermore, the growing concern is how this information can be used to push a certain issue or influence the population, as was the case in the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Privacy laws are becoming widely concerning, there are some states in the US that have pushed privacy protection, but the problem remains that these are not federal laws yet, and the progress of pushing privacy protection in many countries remains slow or non-existent. Overall, it is an interesting time to see a push for privacy and information protection, and see how the policies are incorporated in the coming future.

Fahd Shah


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