As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our daily lives and spread globally, vaccinations and prevention are the frontlines to tackle this problem at the moment. The use of emerging technologies to tackle this problem has also been used and continues to be used to this day.
Technologies like GPS, 5G Network infrastructure, big data and smart applications are some of the technologies used to combat COVID-19. Although very useful, these new and existing technologies can also pose dangers to individuals and society as a whole.
These dangers are privacy concerns to Human rights abuses, fake products and missing the whole point on the use of these technologies. These are just a few examples of the dangers of tech-driven solutions to COVID-19.
Privacy Concerns & Human Rights
The use of smartphone GPS data to track private citizens was used for purpose of checking to see if people were at their quarantine zones. The targeted surveillance was to make sure that the subjects did not spread COVID-19 by travelling or moving to other locations. Individuals were supposed to state their quarantine locations and stay there. Those who didn’t were picked up and taken to government-run quarantine centers. The Standard Newspaper reported of a woman who was picked up after she had come from the UK and reported to her place of work without isolating.
Although the state-sponsored monitoring had good intentions, the execution was not legal. No warrant was issued by Kenyan courts to monitor the woman who had travelled from the UK in March 2020.
We live in a world where anybody with a smartphone and an internet connection can post anything regarding any subject even if they are not qualified. The internet is one of the best platforms to reach a big portion of the public apart from TV and Radio. This also makes it a very dangerous medium for spreading fear and misinformation.
Inaccurate information spreads very far and very fast, making it difficult for the public to identify verified facts and advice from trusted sources, such as their local health ministry or WHO. How can you help to stop the spread? If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can report it to the hosting social media platform. Here is more information on how to do that.
As regards to COVID-19 pandemic, if you cannot verify the information you come across online, then do not believe any information posted by anyone. Get all your COVID-19 information from the World Health Organization’s website, Official Twitter page, or Official Facebook page.
You can also get accurate information directly from your government’s health ministry. For example, in Kenya, you can visit the Komesha Corona section on the ministry of health website.
During the early pandemic days, the internet usage had increased by 70%. In Kenya, Safaricom reacted by working with regulators on the allocation of additional spectrum to meet the sudden spike in demand as more customers were working from home.
When we take a deep dive into what the people on the ground really want then good network infrastructure is not on the top of their list. While the fast network is a welcome advancement, the number one priority is always food, good healthcare and job security.
While Safaricom did upgrade up to 1054 sites to 4G, the same company through its Safaricom Foundation is also addressing the real issues on the ground. Focusing on 3 key pillars is health, education and economic empowerment, the company has in the past 6 months done some exemplary work that includes
- Partnering with Kilifi County for Improved Newborn and Child Health Services by opening a newborn unit
- Supporting over 1000 students in the accelerated learning programme in Tana River in partnership with Zizi Afrique Foundation
- Partnering with Kenyans to bring their community dreams and aspirations to life by Setting Aside KES100 Million for Ndoto Zetu initiative
In conjunction with mask-wearing, social distancing and vaccinations, these are a few real examples of companies solving problems that might be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before COVID-19, a large percentage of the population could not identify an Infra-Red gun if they saw it. This was a tool mainly used by professionals like refrigeration and air conditioning technicians. In the medical field, the tool was also used for a similar purpose, to make sure the refrigerators are running at an optimum temperature to ensure the effectiveness and potency of the stored medicines.
But now, the temperature gun or thermo gun as it’s commonly known as is everywhere. This is a tool that a normal person can buy either from a hawker in the streets to a hardware or chemist. This is one piece of tech that a lot of institutions rely on on a single basis. So what if it’s not reliable? Who calibrates these pieces of tech from time to time?
Reports of dubious temperature guns popping up started as early as March of 2020. These were made of plastic and pre-programmed not to exceed a certain temperature. This brings about a very dangerous situation where the infected could be allowed to go to school, church or enter shopping malls and spread COVID-19.
Are there unscrupulous business owners who are using these guns to let people into their establishments? Because there is nothing more reassuring to a customer than making them think that their temperature range is still OK. On the other hand, the business benefits as well from more sales instead of turning away customers.
The Sun reported that FAKE corona virus masks, testing kits and drugs pose a global threat that is putting thousands of lives at risk. This also raised concern from Interpol.
“The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis, shows a total disregard for people’s lives.”Interpol Boss Jurgen Stock
With the people contracting COVID-19 rising every day, big data mapped out can be used to help track infection curves across any region. This can be compared to vaccine rollouts to see if there are any changes. The data produced can then be used to help policy makers make decisions like a lift or engage travel restrictions and so on.
Data from a variety of sources can be analysed using computer-based algorithms to analyse health records to help identify virus spread patterns. Big data technology is still new and many implementation challenges such as information overload and data ambiguities, remain. Another problems that may arise with huge amounts of data is conditional probability mistakes.
For this reason, governments and institutions would need to continuously train staff in data analysis techniques.