Google’s use of data to inform Covid-19 response problematic: expert
Issa Sikiti da Silva
A digital communications expert has slammed Google’s decision to use public data to show which places are complying with stay-at-home orders, calling it problematic.
"Using public data from Google raises a key conflict between the need for mass surveillance to effectively combat the spread of coronavirus and the issues of confidentiality, privacy, and consent concerning any data obtained,” Professor Mark Skilton, Director of the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Network at the University of Warwick Business School, said.
Many governments around the world, including in Africa, have ordered their populations to stay at home and limit their movements, as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc. The aim, they said, is to stop the virus from spreading further.
Google has taken advantage of the lockdown and social distancing saga to release its ‘’COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports’’, to help slow the rate of transmission.
While many quarters have welcomed the decision, some sources, including Prof Skilton, have hit at Google’s lack of consideration for people’s private data.
"Anonymous data is commonly used in medical trials to test new and existing drugs, but that is consensual because participants are asked at the outset for permission to use their medical data,” he pointed out.
Using data Google is an altogether more complex issue, the professor noted.
Google said it would be using aggregated, anonymous data showing how busy certain types of places are — helping identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded.
“While we do have legal precedent for law enforcement accessing mobile phones and private data in the case of terrorism and cybersecurity breaches, this use of large-scale data is ethically more difficult,” Prof Skilton emphasized.
However, with this pandemic turning into a long game Skilton said the world may need to use all the digital tools at its disposal, provided that anonymity was managed properly.
Acknowledging that Covid-19 was an emergency on such a huge scale, Skilton said if anonymity was managed appropriately, internet giants and social media platforms could play a responsible part in helping to build collective crowd intelligence for social good, rather than profit.
Founded in 1965, the University of Warwick is a public research university located on the outskirts of the city of Coventry.