The privacy debate will go on long after COVID-19 has died out but the pandemic illustrates just how irrelevant the discussion can be.
The UK has the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in Europe (at least published ones, and let’s face it, the UK is probably too honest about most things) and yet there is still a debate between privacy and lockdown (and potential death). And the app that will trace COVID-19 and provide clear data about the virus is being delayed because people have brought up the privacy debate – again.
Meanwhile, South Korea has (fingers crossed) conquered COVID-19 in just three months. You can say ‘yes, well, they had SARS experience’ but they acted quickly and decisively and did not even have to impose a European style strict lockdown.
Within two weeks, 700,000 face masks were distributed to workplaces, there was an instant hotline to update the public and by mid-March, they had tested 270,000 people.
More importantly (and this must impact the privacy debate), people were tracked via GPS, backed up by surveillance camera data and credit card activity.
In the ‘West’ this would catapult people into the streets, shouting about their privacy, their data and how dare Big Brother spy on them.
When the pandemic is over and people go back to blaming each other and telling each other it was all their fault, the privacy debate will be a key factor.
In this case, sacrificing privacy could have (and did) save thousands of lives.
The shame is that companies such as Google and Facebook, and you know who, ‘sold’ the benefits of using people’s data appallingly badly. Instead of promoting the idea that data on customers could make their lives happier, healthier, and less stressful, customers became alienated and suspicious.
Instead of happily trading privacy for safety, the UK, the US and several other countries are weeks and months behind where they should be, while South Korea and others have not only survived but ‘stores are open, factories are humming and people are riding buses and subways’.
The privacy debate is not over but this pandemic has certainly added a whole new twist to the story.