INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM VS. SOCIAL OBLIGATIONS-THE CASE FOR DOWNLOADING TRACING APPS DURING THE NEW CHINESE (COVID19) VIRUS EPIDEMIC

1.Introduction

The new Chinese virus, Covid19, has tremendous economic and social costs globally. Most countries have been in different levels of lock down, some well over a month, creating huge economic costs. The social costs of this epidemic have also been tragic. At the time of writing, globally 206,265 deaths have been attributed to Covid19 with a number of European countries, like Spain, Italy, Belgium and France,  having had the highest per capita deaths(https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html).

Governments are facing both an economic and health crisis. Governments have  adopted three strategies to combat the spreading of this virus; different levels of lock-down, tracing infected people and social distancing. These strategies have reduced the spread of the virus (flattened the curve). But the economic crisis can not be solved without re-opening economic activities. So, governments have developed tracing apps which can help to reduce the spread of the virus, even when the economy is reopened. However, some people object to these apps on the grounds of privacy concerns and suggest that they will not download any tracing apps.

This blog is to make the case for downloading tracing apps.

2.Tracing apps and privacy concerns

Having escaped from behind the ‘Iron curtain’ (i.e. socialist country under the control of the Soviet Union until the 1980s), I value my privacy more than most Westerners, who take it for granted. At that time, we all lived in fear of our KGB type secret service, which was tracing anybody who may have objected to socialism and prosecute/execute them without any due legal process. (BTW, during the lock down you may want to watch a fantastic movie, The Lives of Others, which documents the modus operandi of the secret police in East Germany, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/).

In the late 20th and 21st centuries things have changed. We all use social media, or Google search, or online banking, or on line shopping or just booking a cab on our mobile, or pay for our shopping with our credit cards and so on. For example, Facebook alone has had 2.5 billion active user on December, 2019(https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/). That is around one third of the world’s population.

So, step back and think again, what do you think happens to all these electronic footsteps? They are collected and analysed for marketing and all sorts of other purposes. That is what big data analytics is all about, and it is now taught at many Universities. There are also companies  which analyse large unstructured  large data bases for different purposes(https://www.nuix.com/fact-sheets/nuix-engine-fact-sheet).

Therefore, in summary, you could be traced quite easily. But authorities in a democratic society do not have incentives to do so unless you are a terrorist or a criminal. The currently proposed tracing apps are temporary and voluntary. The data is only accessible by the health authorities and it will be deleted within a fixed period. You do not have to down load it, but please do it for the reasons outlined below.

3. The social obligation the download the tracing app

One of the many economic consequences of the current epidemic is that millions of people lost their jobs. Governments all around the world are  standing by their population and have introduced various economic measures to support individuals as well as businesses. For example, the USA under the leadership of President Trump approved a 2 trillion dollar economic stimulus package(https://www.nytimes.com/article/coronavirus-stimulus-package-questions-answers.html), whilst the EU is proposing a stimulus package of 540 billion euros(https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/10/eu-approves-half-a-trillion-in-virus-stimulus-but-no-corona-bonds.html).But all these monies need to be paid back. The sooner the locked down can be safely lifted, the lower the economic damage is. One per-requisite for safe easing of the lock down is that, infected people can be identified and people who have interacted with then notified. That is what tracing apps do, nothing more nothing less.

Young people have an incentive to download a tracing app to minimize their future debt and they have a social obligation to do so to protect the more vulnerable, older generation. After all, it is their grandparents and their parents who fought in the wars and built a more prosperous world. Older generations have an incentive to download the tracing app as they are typically more vulnerable to the virus and they do not want to prolong the lock down. They also want to minimize the financial burden on the next generation.

So, let all of us download the tracing app.

4. Key takeaways

The new Chinese virus, Covid19, caused enormous economic and social damage to the whole world.

Governments effectively combat the spread of this virus with lock-downs, tracing and social distancing.

The lock-downs need to end to minimize the economic damage caused by the virus.

One of the per-requisites to ease the lock-down is better tracing of people who carry the virus.

Governments have developed various tracing apps and people are encouraged to voluntarily down load them. These apps meet the privacy concerns of individuals much better, than using social media, mobile phones and e-commerce.

Every member of society has an incentive and a social obligation to download a tracing app and delete it when the crisis is over.

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