What Does the Data Tell Us?

We have a belief that more data equals better decisions. But many times the data that we receive is not accurate and complete, and we are only getting a partial view of what we really need to know, in order to make solid decisions.

Recently, it was discovered that location data was being collected from cellphone users to provide information on social distancing patterns because of the coronavirus. We all understand and many of us accept, at this point, that our data is being collected and then used to make decisions, especially for public safety.

But I wonder how much data will be enough and if the coronavirus has opened Pandora’s Box to our privacy?

Let us start with who is doing what and explore if it is a good idea. Did you know that:

1) China uses a tracking system via a smart phone app. The app is called Alipay Health Code, developed by Ant Financial, which is the sister company of Alibaba, which uses the wallet app and downloads a QR Code. The QR Code will appear in three color schemes and provides real time data of the contagion risk of that person. The three colors of the QR Code are; green, allowing the person to travel and be in public places, yellow, stay home seven days and red indicates a two week quarantine. The app also provides a hidden feature that sends the persons location with an identifying code number to the Police. It should be noted here that many of the people who were healthy, still had a red code, preventing them from going out and illustrating that the data was not completely accurate.

2) Taiwan is the first to use an “electronic fence” via the smart phone. The police will be alerted if a person moves outside of their quarantined area or if they turn off their phone. Additionally, assigned people will call the quarantined person twice a day for verification that they are home and have not just left the phone on. Taiwan has been praised by many for keeping the spread of the coronavirus low.

3) Israel has been authorized to use cell phone location data to use contact tracing of people who have the coronavirus. They will use the data to identify all people who have been in contact with the infected person, and quarantine those people as well.

4) European countries have had a more difficult time because of the General Data Protection Regulation GDPR, which prevents the data sharing of personal information. However, there has been a temporary suspension and carriers are sharing data with these nations to verify that people are complying with limitations of movement.

Now, what are we doing in the United States to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and what data is being used to assist us in this endeavor? Unlike other countries, where there is overt data that is being collected and used by the government in collusion with mobile providers and other businesses, our data actually comes from all those apps that we download and many consumers do not even realize what information we have willingly provided. For example, one study just released last week states that iPhones have over five thousand hidden app trackers. Companies such as Unacast are able to collect location data from games, shopping and utility apps, which we have installed on our phones. Unacast declined to answer which apps they collect data from, but they have assigned letter grades A through F, to states that show a reduction in movement from people; are people staying home, and when they do leave, are they only visiting grocery stores and going back home. Tectonic is another company that recently showed a heatmap that went viral after being able to illustrate the potential spread from spring breakers leaving Florida and going to other states using cell phone location data from X-Mode.

How much data is too much data and do the circumstances matter? We hoard data, thinking that it will make a difference, but it has not, as the numbers of people infected by the coronavirus continue to show.

One thing I know for sure, I do not want my phone’s location used for any app or for marketing and will be carefully looking at what apps use location services and removing them so I can be safely Connected.

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