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UK people support tracking technologies to manage Covid-19 protocols, survey finds

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on January 24, 2021

A new study has revealed that people in Britain are willing to use smartphone tracking apps that can compromise their privacy in order to manage Covid-19 protocols.

The study comes as the introduction of ‘immunity passports’, a tracking technology that will keep personal data of people, is being discussed. They will be introduced to protect people from the spread of Covid-19 infection.

The study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, found more than two-thirds of respondents overall would accept some form of smartphone tracking app to help manage social distancing and the relaxation of a full public lockdown.

Lead author Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, said in the study: "Attitudes were surprisingly permissive and this is good news for public health.”

He added: “But there appears to be a significant gap between what people say they're willing to do and what they actually do, which needs further investigation. Lack of uptake is a big problem because such systems need more than half - 56 per cent - of the general population on board to be effective in helping control a pandemic.”

"As of the end of last month, nearly 21 million people in the UK had downloaded the app, which is more than 10 million below target for it to work properly… The fact (that the) respondents were very receptive and open to such tools should be encouraging and indicates while people don't want to throw away their privacy, they are willing to make compromises perhaps for the greater good," he further said.

The researchers carried out two online surveys with over 3,500 respondents in total. The first survey was carried out in March 2020 and the second in April 2020.

NHS Test and Trace app

The NHS Test and Trace app, a decentralized tool relying on Google/Apple Bluetooth technology, was later introduced in September 2020.

Both surveys presented at least two scenarios - an app, using smartphone tracking data to identify and contact those who may have been exposed to people with Covid-19, which people can choose to download.

The second scenario proposed this app was compulsory for all mobile phone users and enabled the Government to use the data to locate anyone violating lockdown orders and enforce them with fines and arrests.

Both surveys yielded almost the same results. Around 70 per cent of respondents accepted the opt-in app. While almost two thirds, some 65 per cent overall, accepted the mandatory version with tighter enforcement.

When a sunset clause was introduced, resulting in all data being deleted after two weeks, acceptance levels of both scenarios rose to more than 75 per cent.

Acceptance increased further to more than 85 per cent when, on top of the time limit, an opt-out clause was provided, the authors of the study noted.

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Published on January 24, 2021
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